A new research, development and innovation centre has been set up at Plus X Brighton by regional highways construction leader Roadways.
The Mayor of Brighton & Hove, Coun. Alan Robins, declared the centre officially open at the beginning of July.
Roadways’ chief executive James Bailey said it would take the company’s innovative environmental work to the next level, while helping it to scale up.
“Not many people know that the concrete carried in a single drum mixer truck typically involves as much CO₂ as driving 17,000 kilometres by car,” he said. “That’s halfway around the planet.
“Some construction professionals and much of the wider public are simply not aware how the carbon footprint of concrete and other construction materials can be significantly greater than other everyday items.
“As a result they are unlikely to consider it a priority to cut down on concrete consumption. Do you think about the effects of adding a concrete base to your shed? It’s little things like that which all add up. “
If people thought that way, rather than simply focusing on the headline stories about flying, low energy lightbulbs or electric cars, it would make a huge difference in the fight against global warming.
He added: “Just 10 wheelbarrows of concrete has the same carbon footprint as a flight from London to Madrid. Looking at it another way: it would take a football stadium full of mature trees two years to absorb the CO₂ of that single concrete mixer truck.”
Roadways’ objectives for its Brighton research, development and innovation centre are to:
- raise awareness of the carbon and wider ethical impact of construction materials.
- help specifiers and end users embrace the idea of a built environment with lower levels of these problematic materials.
- enable anyone interested to find better solutions.
- research, develop, launch and grow Roadways’ own low carbon materials and solutions business. If successful, this will help the company’s own concrete supply service (and other independent concrete producers) to cut their carbon footprint in half.
- identify, develop and launch digital construction technologies, improving the safety, quality and productivity of contracting works.
- promote Roadways’ highways contracting, civil engineering and asphalt surfacing services.
The company knows what is possible, because it has already developed and launched cold asphalt, which reduces related carbon production by 40%, and the concrete it uses under roads (called hydraulically bound materials or HBM) saves 70%. For each lorry load, that was a CO₂ saving equivalent to driving 3,500 kilometres by car.
James, who previously led corporate innovation and venturing teams at BT, said: “We are actively looking to collaborate with civil and structural engineers, architects and anyone with an interest in the industry who has the same ethical and environmentally-focused goals as ourselves.
“I’ve seen the amazing things that can be achieved when start-ups, corporate innovators and established SMEs like Roadways get together.
“Plus X provides the ideal environment for us to achieve our objectives – I’m really excited about the talent pool and business opportunities that Brighton offers”.
He said the team was delighted to have been accepted into the Brighton Research, Innovation and Technology Exchange (BRITE) programme, which had been made possible by a partnership between Plus X Brighton and the University of Brighton and funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
Samantha Harland, BRITE programme manager at Plus X, said: “The past year has presented new challenges for lots of industries, so it is great to see businesses like Roadways continue to adapt, grow and innovate, especially in the area of sustainability.
“Plus X Brighton champions innovation and invention. Our seven-storey innovation hub provides unique support to pioneers in the sustainable economy, and we are proud to have Roadways as part of the BRITE cohort.
“Roadways will be able to access a variety of programmes designed by Plus X and the University of Brighton including business coaching, circular innovation strategy and access to our state-of-the-art workshop to build and test new eco materials and solutions.”
The initial focus of the R&D and innovation centre will be to build an expert team to look at the answers to these questions:
1. Why are awareness levels of the carbon footprint of construction materials in the industry (and among the general public) so low? What’s the most effective way to raise awareness? Who can help to achieve this?
2. What are the best alternatives to help people avoid the use of concrete? For example:
3. Building an extension, garden office or shed on paving slabs or innovative corkscrew piles rather than a concrete base or trench foundation.
4. Using timber rather than concrete for path edgings.
5. In the Brighton area, how widely available are low carbon concretes like British Standard CEM III A mixes? These offer an easy way to achieve a 50% CO₂ saving.
6. What is the take up of low carbon concrete like CEM III A? What can be done to increase take up? This offers an easy way to achieve a 50% CO₂ saving.
7. Why is there currently no supply available of pre-blended low-carbon cement CEM III A to independent concrete producers in the UK? This offers an easy way to achieve a 50% CO₂ saving.
8. Today, Brighton’s concrete is made using 100% primary aggregates dredged from the sea. What is the environmental impact of this? Can recycled aggregates from the local circular economy be used instead?
9. Why is low-carbon cold asphalt made from locally sourced recycled aggregates (40% CO₂ saving) not used in Brighton at the moment? It meets all the relevant Highways specifications. What can be done to change this?