Collaborating with research institutions like CRRI for developing a framework will not only give policymakers a wealth of data but also allow for different policy options to be tested.
CSIR-Central Road Research Institute - Dr.Ambika Behl, Sr. Principal Scientist, Flexible Pavement Division
India is a developing country with massive and diverse transport sector, it is also the third highest CO2 emitting sector. As per a 2018 report of the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, within the transport sector, road transport contributes to more than 90% of the total CO2 emissions. The Government of India is continuously working towards various policy measures for decarbonisation of road transport, with a major focus on adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country.
We are forgetting a very important and critical point here: more than vehicular emissions, the road construction itself is a very high carbon emitting process. In the construction of a one-km road, the emissions produced are equivalent to the annual emissions of 210 cars if run 24x7! So, along with alternate fuels we need to simultaneously work on materials and technologies which can reduce the carbon emission during road construction; only then we can achieve a substantial reduction in emissions.
The net zero emission aim of India needs both the government’s push and the industry’s participation. The government gives 5% bonus on early completion of projects and India has created many world records in the fastest construction, so if there is a 1-2% bonus on carbon emission reduction, we can make world records in this area as well.
Adopting design, materials, and machinery that lower carbon emissions
The Government of India has set out the National Climate Plan under which India has to achieve its net zero emissions goal by 2070. The construction sector is known to be one of the “Hard to Abate” sectors because there are multiple activities and entities involved in road construction and to achieve net zero in construction it is very important that collaborative approach is adopted.
The designer, consultant, contractor, material supplier, equipment and machinery - all the partners need to come on the same platform and try (in their defined roles) to adopt such methods-design-materials-machinery for road construction projects, which can provide the bandwidth to lower carbon emissions. For example, plant, equipment and machinery companies need to reduce their usage of crude based fuels and shift to alternate fuels; pavement designers need to select materials that have less embodied carbon and adopt technologies that reduce carbon emissions during construction; and contractors should be ready to adopt all these alternatives.
Converting waste to valuable resources
The Waste-to-Wealth mission is one of the nine scientific missions of the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PMSTIAC). The mission aims to identify, develop, and deploy technologies to treat waste to generate energy, recycle materials, and extract resources of value. The concept of Waste-to-Wealth is very important for the road construction sector to achieve Time-Cost optimization as well as to reduce the burden on the environment. It also connects with the national mission of using local materials. There are many such waste materials which can be used to construct roads. They include waste plastic, waste tyre rubber, jute fibre, steel slag, chrome slag, blast furnace slag, red-mud, brick bats, recycled pavement material, MSW, agricultural waste, Reclaimed Asphalt Pavement Material, fly ash, etc.
Collaborating to develop carbon credit policy and emission calculators
If we want the industry to aggressively work towards reducing carbon emissions, then government must incentivize it by bringing a carbon credit policy. In fact, the activity should not only be to eliminate/reduce carbon/GHG emissions, but we must also sequester carbon, which will transform the construction companies from net negative to net positive entities.
To start with, all the stakeholders should collaborate and create a baseline of CO2 emissions and then devise a carbon calculator for India. There should be one standard carbon calculator else it will be very difficult for government agencies to get authentic data on carbon reduction during construction activities.
Under the aegis of MoRTH and MoEFCC, organizations like NHAI, NRRDA, and the PWD’s should collaborate with research institutions like CRRI to develop a framework, which will not only give policymakers a wealth of data, but also allow for different policy options to be tested and their future impact predicted and quantified, thus allowing for the optimal one to be chosen.
Such innovative technologies have already been talked about a lot and there are specifications existing to use these innovations. But their full-scale adoption is still lacking. It’s time to bring policies like carbon credits / EPR, and once the incentives are attached to carbon reduction, the awareness about decarbonization will fall in place.
Challenges in transitioning to low-carbon construction
I think the major challenge will be to attain time cost optimization while achieving net zero or lower carbon emissions. Another challenge would be the provision to use alternate materials/technologies in the existing contract. CRRI, as a research institute, has implemented many technologies and materials that help reduce carbon load. These include waste plastics, reclaimed pavement material, C&D waste, slag aggregate, fly ash, modified binders, warm mix asphalt, and crumb rubber bitumen.