DecarboN8 network researchers shows that transport’s carbon problem stems not only from tailpipe emissions but also from the construction, maintenance and operation of roads and railways themselves.
Each transport infrastructure generates carbon emissions in its construction, maintenance and operation. This hidden carbon cost is known as embodied emissions. The UK government department deciding to build new infrastructure does not have to account for the emissions from those decisions. Scientists feel this disjoint must be resolved. It will deliver Net Zero by 2050 will require reducing carbon emissions across all sectors.
The new research quantifies the embodied emissions involved in building and maintaining typical transport infrastructure. The study looked at real infrastructure proposals for North East England. It selected with support from Transport for the North.
Director of the Urban Flows Observatory in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, Dr. Danielle Densley-Tingley, scoped out the project with the lead authors and project partners. It provided embodied carbon expertise.
Scientists compared standard construction materials and methods with more sustainable alternatives. They wanted to determine their potential for reducing the carbon cost of road and rail projects. It looked at the potential impact of a steadily decarbonising electrical grid.
The study can help provide clarity around the costs and benefits of transport infrastructure projects. The important scale of embodied emissions from infrastructure will be of interest to those involved in early-stage decision making. It will ensure that new schemes do not undermine national and local climate ambitions.