Undermining Infrastructure

epsrc3   Funding body: UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Start Date: October 1st, 2011 End Date: April 30th, 2014

Involved staff

Leeds: Prof. Phil Purnell (PI), Dr. Julia Steinberger, Katy Roelich, Dr. Jonathan Busch, Dr. David Dawson; University of Edinburgh: Prof. Gareth Harrison; University of Newcastle: Prof. Phil Blythe; University of Southampton: Prof. David Richards


The current UK infrastructure supporting our national economy and our daily lives is under threat from the changing climate and social evolution. Also, it cannot deliver the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to meet the governments challenging targets. The UK Government has initiated a radical programme of infrastructure renewal, but must take care not to introduce new vulnerabilities by focussing too narrowly on the climate change targets. This project aims to provide decision makers with tools to assess the material impacts of infrastructure regeneration, including flows of valuable material into and out of the system and vulnerability incurred by increased demand of scarce elemental resources. We will develop an enhanced stocks and flows methodology by adding layers of information on material properties and resource vulnerability, to evaluate the material barriers to achieving adaptable low carbon infrastructure. This will constitute a step change in infrastructure planning, ameliorate vulnerability assessments, reduce CO2 emissions and enable adaptability. Making radical changes to the mix of technology and materials contained within infrastructure will introduce a pernicious new menace; vulnerability owing to material scarcity. Many new technologies rely on materials that are not widely present in, or demanded by, current infrastructure. Wind turbines and electric vehicles require rare earth metals; low-carbon reinforced concrete may require magnesium, chromium and titanium. Introducing new materials into physical infrastructure, where annual production is measured in billions of tonnes, can increase demand by orders of magnitude or induce scarcity in previously abundant materials. Unfortunate policy decisions are already being taken that may lock us into costly solutions, creating future obstacles. We need to fully understand these material barriers to achieving adaptable low carbon infrastructure and propose approaches and systems to overcome them. The principal impact of this project will be to identify future vulnerabilities of proposed new low-carbon infrastructures, by ensuring that we have the design and analysis tools to take proper account of the stocks, flows, locations, vulnerabilities and qualities of rare materials as they flow through infrastructure. This must include recycling provisions for wastes and reuse of valuable intact functional components. The project will provide tools to help reliably predict and mitigate infrastructure failures caused by shortages of materials and manage the financial risks posed by increasing prices of increasingly scarce materials. The project will be completed in 2014, and case studies demonstrating this approach will be released throughout the project to support early adoption of the findings.


Katy Roelich k.e.roelich(at)leeds.ac.uk

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