What has traditionally been the greatest obstacle in the design phase of infrastructure projects to reduce carbon emissions?
Dean Burke: Traditionally, infrastructure projects have predominately been 2D-based deliverables. The extraction of metrics, such as quantities, types of material and, furthermore, the associated carbon, has been a manual process with less opportunity to closely track use and emissions, especially during the design phase and as key decisions are made on the project.
The Link Alliance leadership and the sustainability team have found the hybrid system immensely beneficial; it keeps the project on track toward achieving the sustainability targets.
Digital engineering tools and initiatives are enabling us to integrate data across all aspects of the project. Embedding aligned metadata into the digital twin models has been a game-changer for all parties involved, allowing us to interrogate for both quantities of materials used and associated carbon emissions, utilizing an automated process to feed information into the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia [ISCA] materials calculator. ISCA is an industry-led system used to deliver sustainability performance by benchmarking key metrics across a project’s lifecycle. We then report the calculation through a Microsoft Power BI dashboard, which is a digital canvas allowing insights into the underlying database through various visualizations and graphs. We share data across multiple cloud-based platforms on a weekly basis and have an automated quality assurance process in place to validate the digital models. This structured metadata also allows the digital twin models to include cost centres, thereby bridging the gap between design and construction reporting.
The transparent way in which we share information across the alliance has made this process both possible and viable. All stakeholders are engaged and informed; designers, constructors and management can stay focused on the carbon “bottom line.”
How does the alliance contracting model support efforts toward meeting the project’s embodied-carbon reduction target?
Dean Burke: The structure that the alliance contracting model puts in place—shared risk and reward across all parties—enables a highly collaborative environment. We rely on each other and proactively solve problems as a team across all parts of the project. This highly innovative and interactive environment allows the undertaking of processes which traditionally would not have been achievable; we collaboratively address everything from document control and construction methodologies to maintaining the data-and-asset-rich digital twin models. These digital twin models ensure close monitoring and feedback so that continued embodied carbon reduction can be realized on a real-time basis.
With the increasing use of digital twins in transport and infrastructure projects, where do you see opportunity to further support sustainability?
Dean Burke: Digital twins can be used to assess and improve sustainability performance through lifecycle assessment (LCA) across a wide spectrum of areas, such as water use, waste output, and impacts on ecology. Broader application could also cover social, cultural and economic metrics—for example, creating a more inclusive and affordable transport system. Together, these measures will enable enhanced holistic approaches to support sustainability and develop a resilient infrastructure system that falls within planetary-health boundaries.
The integration of sustainability measures during the early planning and design phases of projects is essential to reveal potential opportunities and enhance performance. We expect to see fully integrated live metrics across the entire lifecycle of an asset. This lifecycle perspective extends beyond design, construction, maintenance and operation, to the end-of-life stage—how assets, materials and components are re-purposed throughout the built environment. There are no barriers to applying digital twin technology to advance sustainability today, and we’re excited about achieving even greater positive impact.
1 City Rail Link Health, Safety, Environment & Sustainability Report 2020, p. 23
2 As distinguished from operational carbon: carbon emissions from the in-use phase of an asset