Smart-pipes: the low-carbon solution to the infrastructure industry

by Sudeepthi Ravipati (‘24) | May 10, 2021

A new partnership focused on developing “low-carbon pipes” could forever change infrastructure and the construction industry. With a €269,000 grant from Innovate UK, the University of Birmingham and manufacturing company Aquaspira are collaborating on a nine-month research program with great potential.

According to engineers from the University of Birmingham, the goal of this project is to “support the development of composite plastic and steel drainage and storm water pipes” made of “high levels of recycled materials.” The pipes will have built-in sensors to report changes in environmental conditions, allowing for the quick identification of infrastructure problems. The materials used to build the low-carbon pipes include LafargeHolcim’s ECOPACT, a specific type of concrete that cuts carbon emissions by roughly 30% to 100% as compared to standard concrete. In addition, the UK company DB Group created Cemfree, a cement-free alternative to regular concrete used in various areas, including the M25, a major freeway in Southern England.

The funding for this smart-pipe program comes as part of an announcement from the UK government revealing a multimillion-pound investment to support businesses across the country pursuing environmentally clean projects. The Sustainable Innovation Fund, a product of Innovate UK, is part of the €1.25 billion investment package that Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed last April to help businesses during the pandemic.

Professor Nigel Cassidy, Professor of Geotechnical Infrastructure Engineering at the University of Birmingham, believes that “[n]ot only will the research deliver low-carbon drainage solutions for the construction industry but the new monitoring technologies will be vital for the long-term assessment of climate change impacts on our built environment.” 

The grant will greatly benefit Aquaspira’s research and facilitate new opportunities for increasing efficiency in the UK. Neil Wallace, Managing Director of Aquaspira, says, “As a business we have been looking for the silver linings to the COVID cloud. At this difficult time, the grant will help our business to continue to innovate, grow and create jobs in the North West.” 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma notes that “the UK’s response to coronavirus has demonstrated the very best of British ingenuity, and it is this resourcefulness that will help us navigate our way through this pandemic. Today’s investment will ensure that our innovators and risk-takers can continue to scale up their ideas, helping the UK to rebuild more effectively and ensure we meet our clear commitments on tackling climate change.”

Manufacturer Aquaspira is on course to meet its ambitious target of halving its carbon footprint by 2023. It even has its sights set on a zero-carbon product by 2030. This program brings an exciting opportunity for innovation and is undoubtedly a significant step forward in sustainable economic development.

Categories: Science

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