Asphalt's carbon footprint examined

The UK's carbon footprint is over 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. How much of that footprint is made by the travel industry? And how much by industries that build transport infrastructure? The Construction Materials Group held a one-day seminar – Asphalt’s carbon footprint – exploring several aspects of the subject on Thursday, 19 March 2009 (conference papers).

As part of the momentum towards greater sustainability in all aspects of life, it is acknowledged that carbon footprints need to be monitored so that they can be reduced. The increased carbon demand is cited as the reason behind recent changes in international weather patterns and has resulted in much research into carbon footprint measurement. Indeed, the idea has gained so much popularity that there are several web sites, including a UK government one, which allow individuals to measure their carbon footprint so they can make their home or lifestyle more energy efficient. However, there is currently a lack of consistency in the method of calculating a carbon footprint, which makes it difficult to compare published footprints.

Transport is considered a major contributor to the modern world’s carbon footprint. Much of this footprint results from the direct use of all means of transport – road, rail, air and sea. However, the construction and maintenance of the infrastructure supporting transport systems also have a carbon footprint. Extracting the component materials, transporting them to where they are needed, processing them into usable materials and the eventual constructions, if examined as a separate exercise, would identify an indirect carbon footprint and to look at the complete effect of travel, both direct and indirect aspects need to be considered.

The seminar included presentations on the concepts behind carbon footprints, ways of measuring them, the footprint incurred by asphalt components and construction and examples of means to reduce the footprint. The day explored both how the industry can improve its performance and how it can enhance its reputation where it currently performs well.

  • Carbon footprint can be described as the total set of greenhouse gas emissions (expressed as their CO2 equivalent) caused directly and indirectly by an individual, event, organisation or product.

Cliff Nicholls, TRL Ltd

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