Al Ain: A pioneering research project from the Emirates Centre for Mobility Research (ECMR) at UAE University, led by Dr. Hamad Al Jassmi and Dr. Umair Hasan, has developed a comprehensive methodology to assess life-cycle cost and sustainability impacts for road projects, which aid decision makers in choosing optimum alternatives at a stage where their decisions have implications on infrastructure facilities that would last for more than 50 years. The methodology integrates all aspects of lifecycle assessment including stakeholder (government authorities and users), cost, energy consumption and pollutant emissions across any specified lifecycle period, which covers raw material extraction, material production and transport, construction, operation, and usage (including traffic), maintenance and rehabilitation, and the end-of-life recycling stage.

The findings of this project can aid the decision-makers in the UAE and beyond to optimize their design, operation and end-of-life handling of road transport systems and assist in achieving a net-zero objective on the basis of scientific methods. It also proposes a strong integration between stakeholder groups to achieve actual sustainability. The outcomes of this project have been published as two research articles in the Journal of Cleaner Production, ranked amongst top 5% journals in the field of sustainability. This project has been the latest addition in the ECMR’s efforts to disseminate knowledge to the global expert society and contribute to advancing the field with novel methodologies and techniques.

“Roads are inherently massive expenditures with considerable environmental footprint. Major environmental burdens for roadworks are from material (hot-mix asphalt and cement) consumption during construction and/or maintenance that hinder effectively achieving net zero-carbon road operation and/or construction,” Dr. Al Jassmi, Director of Emirates Center for Mobility Research said. “To avoid environmental and cost overruns, it is imperative that the engineers, planners, and decision-makers apply optimization techniques over the whole lifecycle instead of selecting the cheapest option for initial construction. Lifecycle analysis methodologies assert that economic, social and environmental impacts must be acknowledged throughout the whole project’s lifecycle, but its real-world applications are largely limited to European and North American countries and that too for small scale urban roads.”

Dr. Hasan, Senior Researcher at Emirates Center for Mobility Research, explains that “the basic principle of this novel methodology works by first identifying the need or missing features in a road transport system, inclusive of both the road and the vehicles using it due to the larger contribution of the later. Next, it utilized and integral system of theoretically supported equations to find out the road transport system attributes that are desired by the general road users, such as better design, lane width changes, provision of public transport system on the route, etc. These public-accorded attributes are then normalized based on the advice of experts and government authorities. The planner then deduces a list of potential road transport system alternates based on empirical analysis of the stakeholder opinions and sets a lifecycle period. Using industry-standard tools like microsimulation modelling (for vehicle performance evaluation) and Eco invent database for roadworks, the lifecycle impacts for the lifecycle period are determined for different alternatives. As a precautionary check-and-balance, a secondary stage of expert and governmental objectives is applied to both qualitatively and quantitively rank the alternates and enhance the overall sustainability of the assessed road transport system.”

Applying this developed methodology, the research team at ECMR modelled the sustainability performance of the case study highway section in Abu Dhabi. Through a novel recycled material approach for roadworks and a demand-responsive dynamic autonomous vehicle-based public transport system, the pollutant emissions were found to be potentially reduced by over 55% with a projected cost benefit of 51% ($3.65 billion) over 30 years lifecycle.