Achieving the shift to a low carbon future without sacrificing major projects is a huge challenge facing the construction industry. Brian Worrall, Director of Corporate Affairs at Certas Energy, looks at the role of alternative fuels
The government has outlined its long-awaited plans to achieve a low carbon future in its recently published Clean Growth Strategy. The plan outlines recommendations to accelerate the shift towards low carbon transport and reduce emissions with measures to encourage the take-up of electric vehicles, shifting more freight from road to rail and investment in innovation around low carbon transport technology and fuels.
The vast majority of construction-related emissions come from diesel diggers, generators and non-road mobile machinery (NRMM), some of which are in operation 24-hours a day. The transportation of construction materials and waste via HGVs using diesel engines, as well as dust generated from construction activity, also contributes to construction-related emissions. According to the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, diesel diggers, generators and other off-road plant machinery are responsible for approximately 7.5% of NOx emissions, 8% of large particle emissions (PM10) and 14.5% of emissions of the most dangerous fine particles. Clearly, we need to take action now to deliver cleaner growth through construction.
Construction emissions are not just a matter for environmental or regulatory concern. Data from the HSE estimates that 230 construction workers die each year from cancers related to exposure to diesel exhaust emissions. That’s 6.5% of construction-related cancer deaths.
The new Clean Growth Strategy, combined with the imminent introduction of Ultra Low Emission Zones and the increasing backlash against ‘dirty diesel’, means construction businesses will need to innovate and invest to find smarter, greener ways of working. But at what cost? The construction industry already operates at low margins, so any increases in costs will have a significant impact across the supply chain. Solutions that don’t require huge levels of investment or cause disruption to activity are the way forward.
However, the move towards cleaner energy cannot happen overnight so how can the construction industry strike a balance between delivering major projects efficiently and cost-effectively while working in a cleaner, greener and more sustainable way?
Alternative fuels offer a pragmatic solution to help construction companies reduce their reliance on diesel. Shell GTL Fuel, exclusively available in the UK from Certas Energy, is a readily available, cleaner burning alternative to conventional diesel and has been proven to have a positive impact on air quality and local emissions.
There are three main types of paraffinic fuels: hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), gas-to-liquid (GTL) and biomass-to-liquid (BTL). Part of this family, Shell GTL Fuel has been officially recognised since April 2016 under the EN15940 standard. Its technical properties mean it has improved combustion properties inside standard diesel engines, helping to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants, including NOx and PM. Trials have shown NOx emissions can be reduced by up to 37%, and PM by up to 90% with Shell GTL Fuel compared with conventional diesel, supporting the drive to reduce local emissions.
It is important to note that expected NOx benefits vary according to sector and engine technology, but are typically in the region of 10-20%. Although this does not sound that high, because emissions are released in concentrated area, paraffinic fuels can help reduce emissions exceedance areas by more than a proportional amount.
A major benefit for construction companies is that the fuel can be used as a direct replacement for conventional diesel in both heavy and light-duty engines without the need for investment in infrastructure or modification to existing diesel engines.
Not only does Shell GTL Fuel help tackle the air quality issue, but it also offers other benefits to construction plant machinery and vehicles. It can help reduce noise levels from engines – a major benefit for construction sites looking to reduce the impact of their activity on local communities.
The fuel is also classified as having health and environmental benefits as it is non-toxic so harmless if inhaled and has a low risk of skin and eye irritation and is readily biodegradable. If there is a spill, GTL will naturally disperse.
In addition, Shell GTL provides improved starting performance in cold conditions due to its higher cetane number and a low cold filter plugging point (which is the temperature at which diesel starts to wax).
Proven success has already been seen in Europe, where The Hague municipality in the Netherlands and its partner, BAM Construction, swapped its entire diesel fleet to Shell GTL Fuel for all its heavy equipment used in large city construction projects in a bid to reduce local emissions and improve air quality. They have experienced a reduction in emissions of PM and NOx.
There is no preordained solution to energy and air quality issues; it is likely to take longer and be more complex than we think to make progress in all areas. However, an effective fuel management strategy and the use of cleaner burning fuels, like Shell GTL, not only helps reduce emissions, improve the environment and the health and wellbeing of the workforce and public, but also improves efficiency and reduces costs. Making cleaner, safer and healthier fuel choices is a must, as well as a no-brainer, for the construction industry.
Director of Corporate Affairs
Tel: +44 (0)1925 858 500