The emissions-free construction site

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Two major challenges of our time converge on the construction site: the climate crisis and the nitrogen crisis. The equipment we need to build dykes, roads or houses is still powered largely by diesel engines, which emit CO2, nitrogen and particulate matter, among other things. This weighs heavily on the climate objectives of (public) clients, and can endanger a project if the nitrogen standard is exceeded.

Needing to remove this hazard is a strong incentive for starting to build emission-free as soon as possible. But is this already possible, and how can we stimulate it? The Climate Agreement specifies that the government will make emission-free equipment compulsory from 2026 if emissions from mobile machinery don’t decline rapidly enough. Partly because of this, there has been a veritable run on emission-free and in particular electric machines. This has led to a significant range of electrical equipment, but mainly in the lower power classes (up to approx. 100 kW). Where high-powered equipment is needed, such as cranes, pile drivers or asphalt pavers, we must often still rely on internal combustion engines. Emission-free variants are indeed also being developed for heavy equipment, including those running on hydrogen, but they are not yet widely available.

In several projects, including the replacement of Lock II in the Wilhelmina Canal and the A27/A12 Utrecht Ring, Witteveen+Bos is investigating whether and how a zero-emission construction site might be possible. We are considering the equipment needed to perform the work, what the usual engines are, and what emission-free variants are available on the market. We then determine what a realistic and ambitious guideline would be for emission-free and low-emission equipment. Depending on the project, we translate this guideline into a minimum requirement in the contract, or a limit value in a MEAT (Most Economically Advantageous Tenders) criterion. This lets us ensure that the innovative power of the market is used to the fullest, and that investment in sustainable equipment is rewarded. The investments required to make large-scale equipment sustainable are only realistic if a long-term perspective is offered, and the use of emission-free equipment is requested unequivocally by clients.

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