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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J005576/1
Title: Undermining Infrastructure: Avoiding the Scarcity Trap
Principal Investigator: Purnell, Professor P
Other Investigators:
Harrison, Professor GP Richards, Professor DJ Blythe, Professor P
Steinberger, Dr J K
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Arup Group Ltd BRE Trust (Building Res Excellence) CH2M Hill (Halcrow)
National Grid Newcastle University
Department: Civil Engineering
Organisation: University of Leeds
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 November 2011 Ends: 30 October 2014 Value (£): 449,782
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Urban & Land Management
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Construction Environment
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Our current infrastructure cannot deliver the adaptable, low-carbon future planned by the Government. Existing stock does not make best use of resources and materials; flows of material in and out of the system are poorly understood; and greater vulnerability caused by increased reliance on scarce materials (e.g. rare metals) is ignored. Low carbon infrastructure is being planned without taking into account the availability of materials required to support it. Measures taken to change the properties (embodied carbon/energy, strength etc) of materials, taken in good faith, can have unpredictable effects on input, stock and output of scarce resources in infrastructure. Unfortunate policy decisions are already being taken that will lock us into costly solutions. Left untreated, this will throw up huge obstacles to developing a sustainable infrastructure. We need to fully understand the material barriers to achieving adaptable low carbon infrastructure and propose approaches and systems to overcome these barriers.

We will enhance the established stocks and flows (S&F) methodology used in industrial ecology by adding layers of extra information on material properties and vulnerability. We will extend S&F to include measures of quality (in terms of material properties and age) and vulnerability (in terms of scarcity, geo-politics and substitutability). This will transform S&F from being concerned only with quantities of materials, to capturing quality and availability as well. This will in turn allow us to analyse how changes in the properties of the materials used in a system may introduce vulnerabilities, associated with materials supply, waste management or stock changes. More excitingly, it will allow us to design more resilient solutions 'designing out' pinch-points in materials supply; it will inform CO2 policy making to encourage best value for money emission reduction; and it will provide a robust new framework for analysis of complex interconnected infrastructure systems.

This methodology will be tested on three case studies to refine the initial approach and demonstrate its applicability to the challenge described in this proposal. The case studies will include:

- Some simple, proof-of-concept physical infrastructure systems (such as a bridge)

- More detailed of a system; for example a power station; and

- a system of systems; a place that interacts with a number of different infrastructure systems (for example a neighbourhood or city).

The case studies will be analysed to identify existing stocks, assess the vulnerability of 'replacement' infrastructures and identify new proposals and solutions for alternative approaches. We recognise that the boundaries of the systems and flows may be difficult to define in this project. However, we consider that it would be more important to demonstrate the approach than to define the boundaries absolutely. This demonstration will help us to understand how this approach could be used by policy makers and decision makers and inform more detailed studies in the future.

Some single sector stocks and flows studies have been performed, and the apparent vulnerability of particular material supplies has been established (e.g. DEFRA A review of resource risks to business) but these have not been 'joined together' to produce a full picture of the vulnerability and adaptability of infrastructure. The proposal is adventurous in that the development of the complex methodology required, while based on a combination of well-understood approaches (S&F, LCA etc), will be challenging and require intellectual clarity from three contrasting disciplines: materials science, industrial ecology and environmental engineering.

Our aim is to produce a new, low carbon, adaptive design paradigm for hyper-efficient use of valuable materials. This will lead to a step change in resource use, reduce the vulnerability of future infrastructure, reduce CO2 emissions and enable adaptability.

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Organisation Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk