The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have been felt by all industries and communities across the globe and the effects will be felt for years to come. Everything from the way that people work, to how buildings and infrastructure is designed and built has been significantly impacted. Despite the many challenges posed by Covid-19, it’s also become clear that the construction industry has been presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to rebuild economies and communities in a cleaner, more sustainable way.

In many ways, Covid-19 has injected a renewed sense of urgency into existing challenges the construction industry has faced for years – how do we expand construction to meet demands of population growth in an efficient and sustainable way? How do we modernise and electrify in a way that works for people, planet and profit? How does the industry adapt to meet ever tightening emissions laws and net zero targets? For construction to thrive now and in the future, the industry has to adapt to address these challenges, and do it quickly.

Cutting emissions
With the UK declaring a climate emergency and mandating by law to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the defining challenge for the construction industry, which is currently responsible for around 40 per cent of total UK carbon emissions1, over the next decade is finding ways to to reduce emissions across the board in line with these demanding targets.

Similarly, air pollution legislation is also driving the industry towards cleaner, more sustainable practices. Poor air quality is responsible for 40,000 premature deaths annually in the UK2, and off-highway vehicles and machinery, which is predominately diesel powered, is a key part of the problem. According to the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, construction sites are responsible for approximately 7.5 per cent of harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, eight per cent of large particle emissions (PM10) and 14.5 per cent of emissions of the most dangerous fine particles (PM2.5). The Covid-19 pandemic and the renewed focus on the heath impacts of poor air quality have brought the industry’s harmful impacts into sharp focus and polluting construction processes are increasingly in the sights of devolved law makers.

The construction industry’s scope for reducing emissions is far reaching, from embedded emissions in materials from production and procurement, to direct emissions from construction sites, to the lifetime impact of infrastructure after being built. While improving the long-term efficiency and productivity of buildings can achieve the most significant emission reductions, minimising on-site emissions during the construction phase is an area receiving a lot of attention.

An electric future
The perfect storm of expanding low emission zones, tightening air pollution legislation, and net zero climate targets are combining to accelerate the transition away from polluting fossil fuel- construction equipment. In its place, cleaner, quieter and more sustainable electrified construction machinery is expanding rapidly.

In a recent report3, industry experts from across Europe unanimously identified a trend towards the electrification of construction equipment over the next decade, as the industry looks to reduce its environmental footprint. It also outlined a number of operational benefits of deploying electrified construction equipment, such as significantly reduced noise pollution, improvements to site safety, longer operating hours and cheaper fuel and maintenance costs.

Electrified machinery has already been developed by a number of leading vehicle manufacturers including JCB, Doosan Bobcat and Volvo. Even so, demand is already outstripping supply. In Norway for example, construction companies have turned to converting fossil-fuel driven machinery to electric in order to comply with tightening legislation. This trend is expected to spread to other markets across the globe in the coming years as stricter pollution and climate legislation is passed. Savvy construction managers are staying ahead of the curve by investing in clean electrified equipment. By doing so, they are not only future proofing their business, but also avoiding costly diesel engine maintenance and slashing running costs.

Sustainable construction equipment that not only complies with emissions legislation and climate targets but also offers a range of cost and performance benefits has never been more viable for construction managers. The variety and quality of electrified construction machinery has increased significantly in recent years and the electric range of equipment will continue to progress over the next decade. Battery costs are also reducing as technology continues to advance and the energy density of batteries is increasing. This makes new applications and developments for battery powered machinery in the construction industry increasingly commercially feasible. From excavators, to forklift trucks, to scissor lifts, the range of sustainable electrified machinery is expanding rapidly. The result is that electric equipment isn’t just deployed in a limited sense across a few stages of construction processes but as an integral component across all phases of construction. Lower running costs, silent engines, zero emissions and future proofing ahead of a changing legislative landscape are all key benefits of electrified construction machinery as the sector looks to improve efficiency, performance and reduce its negative impacts on the environment.

Amongst the challenges faced by the industry to clean up its operations lies a rich vein of opportunity to jump-start the transition to cleaner, cheaper and more efficient equipment. Now is the time for the industry to take a leading role in achieving a more sustainable future.

1 UKGBC – The building and construction sector can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050
2 The Guardian – Air pollution could kill 160,000 in next decade – report
3 https://hyperdriveinnovation.com/insights/news/the-electric-decade-is-upon-us-construction-industry-experts-call-for-clean-recovery-from-covid-19/

Stephen Irish is Commercial Director of Hyperdrive Innovation. Hyperdrive Innovation designs and manufactures lithium-ion battery systems for powering off-highway and material handling vehicles as well as stationary and portable energy storage systems. Customers include JCB, Hitachi Rail, and the world’s largest online grocery retailer. Based in Sunderland, UK, where it employs more than 40 people, Hyperdrive has secured a global supply agreement to incorporate automotive quality lithium-ion cells into its high-performance battery systems

For more information, please see: https://hyperdriveinnovation.com