Devon is leading the way on new approach to carbon-reduction in highway maintenance ...... The County Council is adopting a pioneering new, climate-focused approach to road maintenance that is winning plaudits nationally. The council has been reviewing its road maintenance procedures - the materials they use, how it's produced, how it's used, how it's applied, the labour required, the time it takes, how long it lasts, everything - to assess the carbon impact of the work it does. From start to end, the council has looked at jobs, such as patching, surface dressing, fixing potholes, fixing gullies and drains, as well as the construction of new features, and by reviewing its processes and breaking them down to component parts, has developed a 'carbon calculator' to work out what the carbon impact is of maintenance and new build jobs.
It means that they can estimate now what the carbon impact is of using a certain material, to do a certain job, in a particular location. And having worked that out, they can, and are already, working out how to do those jobs with far less carbon impact on the environment.
"In the past, we've looked at road maintenance from the point of view of cost and quality. Those factors - the cost to fix something and the performance of the products - have determined how we got the job done.
"But now we've got a third, and arguably most important factor - carbon impact - that is determining a new approach to road maintenance.
"Now we're thinking about the materials we use, and how high in carbon their production is; waste, and whether there’s a lot of waste; sustainability, and how long that repair will last.
"It's putting carbon-reduction at the heart of our design, alongside performance and cost."
It's a simple concept, which has had Devon County Council Project Manager Victoria Walsh presenting her team’s work to highway engineers and organisations across the country, to great applause.
“It's changing the way road maintenance is carried out in Devon,” she said. “And other authorities and organisations across the country are watching our new approach with optimism.”
Take road resurfacing. Traditionally using hot asphalt, the council's new approach uses a cooler mix, now 40 degrees centigrade lower, offering 8 to 10 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, right there.
Because it is a cooler material, the duration of any disruption while the road is being repaired is shorter, leading to fewer emissions.
And that's just by using a cooler asphalt.
Or take the essential winter job of gritting the highway to ensure road users travel as safely as possible.
The council's looked at how that's done - from the vehicles, the fuel, the grit, the routes, the location of the barns from which it collects the grit, the frequency of the runs, everything - to understand what its carbon impact is.
And now they can do something about it to reduce that carbon impact, considering the component parts and re-thinking how it's done.
Peter Dyer is the Materials Laboratory Manager for the Council. Peter's team research all things highway maintenance-related, working with contractors and suppliers of the materials used to repair roads and pavements.
"We are always looking for improvements in the way we do things,” he said.
“The public probably don't appreciate - why would they - the thinking, the work, the research, the lab testing, the real-life trials that go on in search of ever-better, and now ever better for the environment, materials and processes to use on our roads.
"We in Devon are early adopters, one could say, of new materials and new processes to do what we do. We have a great working relationship with contractors and suppliers, who are equally looking for improvements in their business. And as with any lab, some things don't leave the desk, while others make it to trial and ultimately become used for real on our roads.
"Add this innovation to our new carbon-focused approach, and we are making real progress in helping to cut carbon from highway maintenance."
“The ramifications are enormous. It's an absolute game-changer that we will not go back from.
"We have made a public commitment that this council will be net-zero carbon by 2030, and a lot of our carbon output is from the responsibilities we have as a highway authority. “We're well on track to meet that commitment, with improvements we've made in recent years to things like our street lighting network for example. “But this new carbon calculator approach to what we do is changing the way we think. It puts carbon reduction front and centre in our approach to highway maintenance. It's led to innovation, and it’s challenging the traditional ways of doing things."