The construction industry faces pressing sustainability risks and finding solutions to the challenges we face requires looking at the issues from a multidimensional perspective.
One of the most critical challenges is that the built environment contributes 39% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with the construction industry contributing 11% of total GHG emissions in the form of incorporated carbon. While initiatives to reduce direct GHG emissions gain momentum, decarbonizing the construction of built environments, particularly by limiting embodied carbon, will take time.
Switching from current machines to renewable energy sources will have a positive impact on our environment. But how can our industry improve its sustainability performance to have a greater impact?
Productivity is crucial
One of the biggest problems I see in our industry is a myopic view of how to tackle the challenges we face. In addition to the urgent need to reduce GHG emissions, there is also a need to look at other issues, including occupational health and safety, waste generation, fumes and human capital, from a sustainability perspective.
Productivity is crucial when it comes to making our industry more sustainable, but it’s often overlooked when it comes to making big decisions in the name of sustainability.
A special case is the conversation around the electrification of cranes. While we recognize there is a place for electric cranes in our industry, we know they are not the only answer, especially when you look through the lens of productivity and the current availability of clean energy on the market.
In Australia, although the capacity of renewable energy sources, including wind, solar and hydro, is increasing; recent data from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) showed that 79% of the electricity produced on Australia’s east coast in the last twelve months came from fossil fuelsa.
In other parts of the world, where renewable energy industries are more mature and where nuclear energy industries also exist, the rate of electricity generated from fossil fuels is much lower (EU 36%, UK United 42% and United States 61%).
So for us, switching to electrifying our crane fleet was not the solution, as we would continue to draw electricity from a power grid that was still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. It just didn’t make sense.
Additionally, in remote off-grid locations and even urban environments, we are seeing builders relying on stand-alone diesel generators to run electric cranes which in some cases can use 700-1000% more fuel. than diesel-powered cranes. It is expensive from a financial and sustainable point of view.
Take the example of the cost of operating a typical high rise construction tower crane (such as a Favelle Favco M390D), if we know that it consumes an average of 5.8 liters of diesel per hour at the rate current price of AUD2.20 (£1.30) per liter compared to a diesel electric crane using seven times that amount, it costs over AUD159,000 (£93,950) a year to operate the electric crane.
From a crane perspective, the other big problem with electrification is lost productivity. And that was the main driver of our decision to switch to 100% renewable diesel (HVO100). By switching from fossil fuels to HVO100, we are able to reduce our GHG emissions while maintaining the speed, power and reliability of our cranes.
Using Neste Renewable Diesel (HVO100) enables us to reduce well-to-wheel GHG emissions for our fleet by more than 85%. It also reduces exhaust emissions of hazardous substances such as particulates, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (odors) and thus has less impact on the quality of the air. By using cranes with renewable diesel engines, instead of electric cranes or FAME biodiesel engine cranes, we can also offer additional advantages. No crane modifications are required, reducing total cost of ownership and eliminating the need to replace existing equipment (which in itself has lasting effects on flows); and enables Marr to deliver critical construction productivity and cost savings by maintaining the productivity of our cranes.
The reality is that an unproductive site is not a sustainable site. On the other hand, by combining innovative thinking with early engagement in the planning stages of the project, bespoke crane solutions can dramatically increase project productivity.
For example, when we were contracted to provide the heavy lifting solution for the construction of the 1915 Canakkale bridge towers, our client, DL E&C – Limak – SK ecoplant – Yapi Merkezi (DLSY) Joint Venture, asked us to help to reduce the time it would take to build the 318m towers.
The project was delivered approximately 12 months ahead of schedule. This is a rare achievement on an infrastructure project and would not have been possible with a traditional electric crane approach. The simple reason being that electric cranes are currently not powerful enough to lift components weighing up to 155 t to a height of 328 m.
The benefits of modularization
When crane solutions are incorporated early in the planning stages of the project, substantial lifting capacity enables modularization – and this is where productivity drives a real step change in sustainability.
The World Green Building Council identifies “upfront carbon” – emissions caused by the production and construction phases of materials – as one of the most significant challenges to decarbonizing the built environment. Therefore, it is worth considering how productivity can enable some of the industry’s key upfront carbon reduction goals, including “build less”, “build smart”, “build efficiently”, and “minimize waste”.
Offsite manufacturing creates faster manufacturing, more accurate and higher quality construction, resulting in less rework and less waste. Positive sustainability impacts are less site-generated landfill and less upfront carbon incorporated into construction.
Modularization also supports the rationalization of construction sites, potentially allowing fewer structural elements and partitions. This approach can provide smaller substructures and superstructures, which typically account for more than 50% of the initial carbon in buildings. The smaller base footprints of our cranes (with reduced support structures and crane connection points) also help improve the initial carbon embodied in any project.
Improved safety and efficiencies
The bespoke design also improves site safety by having fewer cranes, fewer elevators and a clutter-free job site. Minimizing load movements and lifting interactions ultimately results in fewer accidents and injuries. Ultimately, we reduce complexity on a site and provide an integrated crane solution that meets the lifting requirements of the entire project.
Early engagement also leads to simplified operations without risk, with shorter and more reliable project critical paths. Shorter critical paths can reduce site infrastructure for less time, reducing equipment and labor costs.
Importantly, this gives project designers greater economic flexibility to invest in renewable materials for construction, thereby reducing the initial carbon embodied in the project.
Using productivity to drive sustainability helps drive immediate progress in our industry as we work on medium- and long-term technical emission reduction initiatives. For example, we have carried out case studies where our crane solutions have reduced material unloading processes by up to 80%. Faster unloading reduces delivery transport downtime and contributes to a gradual reduction in direct emissions from the construction site.
The intangible benefits of productivity on sustainable development are just as important as the real gains in terms of carbon footprint, landfilling or the safety of our teams.
The role of technology and innovation
Improving productivity in our construction processes is key to going further and faster. Productivity helps reduce initial carbon in the built environment and provides a wide range of additional sustainability benefits, from safety to waste to improved human capital.
To deliver our innovative solutions, we use advanced data and AI. They are a necessary building block to enable better collaboration within our industry, as increased data improves insights and improves release lifecycle analysis. Data and AI are also helping to integrate efforts between architects, designers and builders, a key enabler for the industry’s vital goal of “building smart” and further reducing embodied carbon in the environment. built.
Productivity innovation through collaboration, data collection and artificial intelligence tools can deliver new and improved career paths to help the industry attract and retain diverse talent to build capital human within our industry. Improving human capital can only create better industry capacity to meet longer-term sustainability challenges, especially net zero carbon.
Sustainability is a journey
As crane suppliers, we are only on the brink of what can be achieved to make our industry more productive and sustainable.
Critical long-term actions are underway and the industry is gaining momentum to address the challenges we all face, but we must go further and faster together.
Meaningful collaboration and a willingness to explore available options from different angles instead of just looking for an outcome without really understanding the issues is essential. The same goes for government reform and support for the private sector to address sustainability issues as an industry and invest in solutions to drive change.
The decisions we make today are just one step in the journey, and we all have a long way to go. We know technology will evolve, so what’s best today may not be in the future. In the meantime, adopting the best available option saves us time in finding the next best solution.
*Simon Marr is Managing Director at Marr Contracting
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