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Reference Number EP/J005576/1
Title Undermining Infrastructure: Avoiding the Scarcity Trap
Status Completed
Energy Categories OTHER CROSS-CUTTING TECHNOLOGIES or RESEARCH(Energy system analysis) 10%;
OTHER CROSS-CUTTING TECHNOLOGIES or RESEARCH(Environmental, social and economic impacts) 10%;
Research Types Basic and strategic applied research 100%
Science and Technology Fields ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY (General Engineering and Mineral & Mining Engineering) 25%;
ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY (Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering) 25%;
ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences) 25%;
UKERC Cross Cutting Characterisation Not Cross-cutting 50%;
Systems Analysis related to energy R&D (Other Systems Analysis) 25%;
Sociological economical and environmental impact of energy (Environmental dimensions) 25%;
Principal Investigator Dr P Purnell
No email address given
Civil Engineering
University of Leeds
Award Type Standard
Funding Source EPSRC
Start Date 01 November 2011
End Date 30 October 2014
Duration 36 months
Total Grant Value £449,782
Industrial Sectors Construction; Environment
Region Yorkshire & Humberside
Programme NC : Engineering
Investigators Principal Investigator Dr P Purnell , Civil Engineering, University of Leeds (99.996%)
  Other Investigator Dr DJ Richards , Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton (0.001%)
Professor GP Harrison , Energy Systems, University of Edinburgh (0.001%)
Professor PT Blythe , Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University (0.001%)
Dr J K Steinberger , School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds (0.001%)
  Industrial Collaborator Project Contact , Building Research Establishment (BRE) Ltd (0.000%)
Project Contact , Newcastle University (0.000%)
Project Contact , Ove Arup & Partners Ltd (0.000%)
Project Contact , National Grid plc (0.000%)
Project Contact , Halcrow Group Ltd (0.000%)
Web Site
Abstract Our current infrastructure cannot deliver the adaptable, low-carbon future planned by the Government. Existing stock does not make best use of resources and materials; flows of material in and out of the system are poorly understood; and greater vulnerability caused by increased reliance on scarce materials (e.g. rare metals) is ignored. Low carbon infrastructure is being planned without taking into account the availability of materials required to support it. Measures taken to change the properties (embodied carbon/energy, strength etc) of materials, taken in good faith, can have unpredictable effects on input, stock and output of scarce resources in infrastructure. Unfortunate policy decisions are already being taken that will lock us into costly solutions. Left untreated, this will throw up huge obstacles to developing a sustainable infrastructure. We need to fully understand the material barriers to achieving adaptable low carbon infrastructure and propose approaches and systems to overcome these barriers.We will enhance the established stocks and flows (S&F) methodology used in industrial ecology by adding layers of extra information on material properties and vulnerability. We will extend S&F to include measures of quality (in terms of material properties and age) and vulnerability (in terms of scarcity, geo-politics and substitutability). This will transform S&F from being concerned only with quantities of materials, to capturing quality and availability as well. This will in turn allow us to analyse how changes in the properties of the materials used in a system may introduce vulnerabilities, associated with materials supply, waste management or stock changes. More excitingly, it will allow us to design more resilient solutions 'designing out' pinch-points in materials supply; it will inform CO2 policy making to encourage best value for money emission reduction; and it will provide a robust new framework for analysis of complex interconnected infrastructure systems.This methodology will be tested on three case studies to refine the initial approach and demonstrate its applicability to the challenge described in this proposal. The case studies will include:- Some simple, proof-of-concept physical infrastructure systems (such as a bridge)- More detailed of a system; for example a power station; and- a system of systems; a place that interacts with a number of different infrastructure systems (for example a neighbourhood or city).The case studies will be analysed to identify existing stocks, assess the vulnerability of 'replacement' infrastructures and identify new proposals and solutions for alternative approaches. We recognise that the boundaries of the systems and flows may be difficult to define in this project. However, we consider that it would be more important to demonstrate the approach than to define the boundaries absolutely. This demonstration will help us to understand how this approach could be used by policy makers and decision makers and inform more detailed studies in the future.Some single sector stocks and flows studies have been performed, and the apparent vulnerability of particular material supplies has been established (e.g. DEFRA A review of resource risks to business) but these have not been 'joined together' to produce a full picture of the vulnerability and adaptability of infrastructure. The proposal is adventurous in that the development of the complex methodology required, while based on a combination of well-understood approaches (S&F, LCA etc), will be challenging and require intellectual clarity from three contrasting disciplines: materials science, industrial ecology and environmental engineering.Our aim is to produce a new, low carbon, adaptive design paradigm for hyper-efficient use of valuable materials. This will lead to a step change in resource use, reduce the vulnerability of future infrastructure, reduce CO2 emissions and enable adaptability
Publications (none)
Final Report (none)
Added to Database 06/12/11