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Live Labs to tackle net zero highways

On 2 April, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced funding for a second round of Live Labs projects: £30m will go to projects which demonstrate how we can move to net zero highways in construction and maintenance.

Details on the three-year programme are as yet sketchy. ADEPT – the Association of Directors of Environment, Planning and Transport – which will be overseeing the programme, reports that the prospectus and application details are expected in late Spring 2022.

ADEPT president Paula Hewitt said in a press release: “Following the success of the first ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme, Live Labs 2 aims to build on the partnerships between DfT, councils, commercial partners, SMEs and academia to deliver scalable zero carbon objectives with potential for commercialisation and applicability to diverse areas across the UK.”

Live Labs are pilot projects which aim to trial new technology and processes, with the findings shared between local authorities so that the funding can potentially benefit the whole sector. The first round of Live Labs was launched in May 2019 with £22.9m of funding from the DfT. Its goals were to look at the opportunities and challenges linked to the adoption of digital technologies across the local highways network.

An October 2021 white paper published by ADEPT looked at how some of the technologies on trial in the first Live Labs cohort contribute to decarbonisation. These include material innovations such as the use of waste plastic in various guises; energy projects including kinetic footpaths, geothermal de-icing and solar panels in roads; the use of drones to identify potholes; and active travel schemes such as e-scooters and e-bikes.

With the first Live Labs officially ending in November 2021, an appraisal of the programme was published on 19 April, looking at whether it had achieved its objectives and what lessons could be taken forward for the next round. Generally, the feeling was that Live Labs had encouraged innovation in the authorities involved, although some had encountered hurdles in getting projects off the ground.

Companies like Thermal Road Repairs, who have introduced new technologies to highways works, will recognise some of the challenges experienced in the Live Lab projects. Areas noted in the report included establishing flexible procurement routes to accommodate research and innovation (some councils had these but others didn’t), how to deal with risk, and reporting on failures as well as successes.

The appraisal also highlighted the need for more robust business cases. This was one of the desired outcomes of the programme so that other local authorities wishing to deploy the innovations had business cases to hand which they could use. Again, this chimes with companies like ours; any council officers wishing to introduce new technology need cold, hard facts and costs to present to their elected members.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Low emission. Permanent solution.


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