‘Super seven’ companies make next stage of National Highways carbon reduction competition  

 Seven companies have been shortlisted for a carbon reduction competition organised by National Highways and will receive between £15,000 and £30,000 to develop their ideas.  

  Ideas put forward that will proceed to the next phase include low carbon fencing materials, recycling old concrete and using a unique climbing robot to carry out structure inspections.  

 The seven companies who have made it through the first stage are:  

*Xeroc Ltd, London  - to recycle old concrete into new concrete, returning each component into its original form with as little contamination as possible 

*Low Carbon Materials Limited, Seaham – delivering a carbon negative aggregate for use in carbon neutral asphalt

*PRG (Scotland) Limited, Hamilton – to produce a bitumen like substance which would be useful for road construction and repairs through this application 

*Circular11 Ltd, Ferndown  - to provide highly durable, vandal resistant and low carbon fencing materials turning mixed low-grade plastic into low carbon infrastructure 

*Asset International Structures (A Division of Hill & Smith Infrastructure Ltd), Cwmbran  - to develop smart fibre reinforced plastic bridge beams that incorporate a novel optical fibre, enabling structural performance monitoring in real time and over long term (image below, bridge girder)

Low Carbon Materials Limited, Seaham – Delivering a carbon negative aggregate for use in carbon neutral asphalt

HausBots LTD, Birmingham -  to deliver a series of structures inspection by using a unique climbing robot with inspection sensors 

  • Loop Infinity Ltd, London  - to deliver a whole life carbon measurement and circular economy across assets within the highways estate.

  Dr Joanna White, National Highways Roads Development Director said:    “We want to speed up innovation within our sector and adopt new solutions. The innovation accelerator will help take potential solutions and drive them through the research and testing phases.”  

 Melissa Giusti, National Highways Project Manager added: “In 2021 National Highways set out its Net Zero plan which includes a commitment to net zero emissions from construction and maintenance activity by 2040.  

 “Material decarbonisation, building less, efficiently using materials, getting things right first time, making their assets last longer and driving change through whole life carbon decision-making are areas that National Highways is going to focus on.  

  “To address this, National Highways is offering funding to innovators for the development of novel solutions that could help them reach their environmental goals. Many congratulations to all the companies who have made it to this stage and we look forward to seeing them develop their ideas.”  

  National Highways has teamed up with Connected Places Catapult to find innovative solutions for net zero carbon maintenance and construction in an exciting new competition worth £1.7m. The winners could receive up to £30,000 to create a detailed trial proposal to test their idea on the road network and a further £80,000 to make their plan a reality.  

Alex Weedon, Executive Director, Connected Places Catapult, SME Development and Academic Engagement said: “National Highways’ goal of achieving net zero emissions involves finding innovative solutions to support decarbonisation, particularly in the maintenance and construction of the strategic road network. 

  “Connected Places Catapult is proud to have been chosen as a delivery partner for this accelerator project. We look forward to supporting the SMEs in the development of their solutions, and turning bright ideas into commercial products and services.” 

  For phase 1 National Highways has selected seven SMEs that will receive funding between £15,000 and £30,000 to develop innovative trial proposals in collaboration with National Highways and their Tier 1 suppliers.  

  In phase 2, further funding up to £80,000 will be provided to support a selected number of these organisations to trial their solutions. Funds will be allocated based on the trial proposals submitted by applicants. All funding will be subject to final investment approval from National Highways.  

  Connected Places Catapult led a thorough due diligence process in collaboration with National Highways and Tier 1s, which involved assessing the technical viability of each proposed solutions, it’s prospective impact and the commercial potential of the SME.  

  National Highways then selected seven companies to join the programme, based on the innovations that will best support their Net Zero plan. Those seven companies were selected because National Highways saw a lot of potential in them, and trust that they can reduce carbon emissions by improving the circularity of building materials, using alternatives materials for roads and fencing as well as leveraging data to drive increasingly pre-emptive interventions resulting in improved asset resilience and increased asset life.  

 The entrepreneurs themselves showed great commercial ambition, motivation and expert knowledge of their subject areas.  

  As well as wanting to make its road network net zero by 2050, National Highways also aims to have its maintenance and construction emissions net zero by 2040. There are a number of intriguing challenges which were set as part of the competition to help National Highways reach its environmental goals.  

Here are more details about the challenges which have been set:  

  

Challenge 1: Alternative materials  

National Highways wants to reduce its emissions from cement, concrete, asphalt and steel by developing or applying alternative materials and techniques. These options should reduce emissions by 50% or more, if possible, compared to the materials used today, and should be usable for a large proportion of all applications including major projects and renewal schemes. For these materials any secondary impacts (e.g. on cost and safety) and the full lifecycle impact on construction and maintenance should be considered.  

  

Challenge 2: Decision-making enablers for asset management and whole life value of assets  

As new build activities are projected to reduce over the coming years, maintenance and renewals of highway assets will form an increasingly important part of asset management, especially in increasing longevity of assets. First, National Highways is interested in innovations which can improve asset management decision-making considering whole lifecycle value, including carbon emissions (alongside other criteria including customer value and cost). Second, National Highways would like innovations able to support decision-making for future maintenance choices, promoting planned, predictive, and preventive interventions. These innovations could leverage information (e.g. from sensors, cameras, third parties such as vehicle telemetry, etc.), supporting asset management and emissions reduction in a way that is accessible, repeatable, and aligning to quality standards set in the company’s strategies.

  

Challenge 3: Enablers for the circular economy in construction and maintenance of highway assets  

National Highways is interested in innovations which can contribute to reusing, redeploying and recycling materials and assets in construction, especially those not recycled consistently to their highest value today. This includes any digital or non-digital enablers supporting these activities and associated calculation of impact. The enablers can also include novel technologies or techniques to assess suitability for reuse/redeployment at different locations; with a focus on using potential waste materials at their highest value. The company is also interested in innovations contributing to “design for deconstruction”, enabling the use of decommissioned and recycled materials and assets for different purposes from construction through to maintenance, considering the end-to-end lifecycle of the asset.  

  Open Challenge   

Although this accelerator focuses primarily on the three challenge areas described above, National Highways is also open to additional innovative ideas which can contribute to our target of zero emissions in maintenance and construction by 2040. Example areas (not exclusive) where applications are welcome are material waste reduction technologies, processes and enablers, modular construction and standard designs, 3D printing of construction assets, smart contracts, data analytics of emissions, material storage, and methods and techniques to accelerate certification of materials and changes to standards.  

 On offer to those successfully selected will be pitch coaching, marketing strategy and investment support, as well as trial design training, deployment support, trial monitoring and evaluation, plus a demonstration day for investors, industry and potential customers and ten months’ tailored business support.  

  This competition is funded through the National Highways Designated Funds; ring-fenced funding that we use to invest in and support initiatives that deliver lasting benefits for road users, the environment and communities across England.  

  

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