Circular economy infrastructure Ellis Fox Blog

Building infrastructure that lasts

Once upon a time things were built to last, and they did impressively well. There are many structures in the UK that are hundreds of years old and still standing strong. Today, however, one of the biggest infrastructure headaches is maintenance. Due to incredibly high volumes of traffic and adverse weather conditions, the UK’s road and rail infrastructure is simply not keeping up. The intention may have been to build to last, using what is believed to be the best materials and engineering.  Yet for all the advances of modern day technology and engineering it hasn’t solved the problem. Potholes persist and maintenance costs are skyrocketing.

Could there be an alternate solution?

The solution could come in an indirect form. As forward thinking companies embrace the circular economy and seek to reclaim and reuse construction materials, they are finding that new compounds are actually harder wearing. Trials on roads show greater durability despite high traffic volumes and a significant decrease in maintenance. While there may be a cost to recycling materials it is still significantly lower than using virgin raw materials. Plus greater durability results in an overall lower material cost in the long run which benefits infrastructure contractors and their profit margins.

Innovation and opportunity

When considered, there hasn’t been a great deal of groundbreaking innovation in terms of on the ground transport infrastructure. Certainly trains have gotten faster, tunnels have gotten deeper and travelled further underground. But the actual materials used to lay road and rail have changed very little over the decades. The rising cost of raw materials and the need to recycle materials already in the economy could be just what the industry needs to drive innovation in this area.

Leading the way

Skanska is one of the industry players that has been experimenting with different combinations of recycled and reclaimed materials to create a more durable asphalt that can be used on motorways. Skanska’s graphene asphalt is made up of 50% recycled materials. A percentage that is significantly higher than the normal 10% of recycled material that is commonly used in other asphalt applications. It’s reported that if the M25 trial is successful, the technology will be rolled out on more UK motorways.

This example highlights how a change to circular economy thinking can open up opportunities for innovation while at the same time making an impact on reducing carbon emissions.