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Emission-free constructing will become the norm: 'stragglers will have a hard time if the rules are adjusted'

30-06-2020

Emission-free constructing will become the norm: 'stragglers will have a hard time if the rules are adjusted'

According to the report of the Remkes Committee, nitrogen emissions must be halved in the next ten years to improve the state of Dutch nature. The construction sector will also have to invest in sustainable measures to meet the nitrogen ambitions of the Remkes Commission. According to Gijs Termeer of SKAO, the emission of nitrogen and CO2 must be drastically reduced: 'clients must play a driving role'.

How can the CO2 Performance Ladder play a role in reducing nitrogen emissions?

'More than 3,500 companies are certified on the CO2 Performance Ladder. These companies have learned to register emissions and to reduce emissions. The emissions that construction companies register are often focused on the emissions of fuel. This registration is mainly done at company level. The challenge for the coming years is to provide insight into the registration of emissions at project level. A system such as the CO2 Performance Ladder, which constantly focuses on the reduction of emissions, can also contribute to the reduction of nitrogen. Project-specific requirements for nitrogen will then have to be drawn up.'
 

How important is the role of contracting parties for zero-emission construction?

'Crucial. It is our common goal to create an emission-free construction site by 2030. Contractually, clients will probably demand that a project is carried out without direct emissions at the construction site and is using green electricity or green hydrogen. It is therefore important that clients dare to use new instruments in tenders. Clients can initially award and demand at a later stage. Old equipment can be phased out step by step. Companies that quickly start using more sustainable equipment on projects will therefore be rewarded and at a certain point the client will demand that no more equipment may be used that, for example, runs on diesel.'

 

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How does nitrogen affect the environment?

In short: nitrogen, after it has been emitted, rises into the air and then sometimes reaches the earth for miles and enriches the soil there. Some plants benefit from a nitrogen-rich soil, but many plants do not, as they will be oppressed. Animals - such as insects - that live on these plants will therefore disappear. Thus, biodiversity is disrupted, also in important protected nature areas. The Netherlands is the number 1 nitrogen emitter in Europe. A big problem.

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What will a civil engineering construction site look like in 2030?

'Projects are likely to be carried out to a large extent with electrical equipment. The development of hydrogen batteries and fuel cells for equipment is therefore a lot further. There will be no direct emissions on the construction site. However, much technical development is still needed, especially for the heavier machines. These machines still run on diesel and the electric variants are hardly available. There are currently too few incentives to purchase sustainable machines. This is mainly due to the purchase price. If clients start to reward companies in the award that will use sustainable equipment, an incentive is created to purchase more expensive, more sustainable equipment more quickly, which can also boost its development. Trade associations are concerned that the costs should not be too high. They also pay close attention to SMEs in particular. With the current problems of nitrogen and PFAS, it is not surprising that builders are reluctant to use new equipment on a large scale. They have no assurance that they will recoup such an investment and not everyone has the room to invest. Equipment was not simply written off and the most economical category V only entered the market in 2019. Category IV dates from 2014 and IIIa and b were delivered from 2011. The simplest thing is to prohibit the use of older equipment for certain projects and areas. With that in mind, we must undergo the development towards an emission-free construction site. However, stragglers will have a hard time if the rules are changed.'

 

Is there also thinking bigger?

'The Ministry of Infrastructure recently presented its strategy towards a Climate Neutral and Circular infrastructure in 2030. This includes eight transition paths and money is also available for pilots and pilot projects. Towards 2030, Rijkswaterstaat has defined four transition paths to work more climate-neutral. There is certainly room for improvement in the field of dry earthmoving, wet earthmoving, engineering structures and asphalt. ProRail is also taking steps in four directions. That is where the profit lies in earthmoving, superstructure rail, energy and engineering works. The fastest and most concrete is the profit that construction machines achieve with different fuels, modern techniques and operation. It can make a factor of two if machines are not constantly stamping and the operator takes a course 'het nieuwe draaien'. 

 

Does SKAO also contribute ideas about nitrogen?

'SKAO works together with sector organizations, ProRail, Rijkswaterstaat and the water boards to measure sustainable equipment and fuel. Clients can use this yardstick to compare offers from contractors. With one ruler you can reduce both nitrogen and CO2. However, there is no real emission registration and data monitoring attached to this. If you want to give an award advantage to emission reductions, then that must be verifiable and enforceable, and that is still a challenge. It is important that such award criteria can be used by both large and small clients and that both larger and smaller construction companies can give substance to them.'

 

The cabinet wants to introduce a threshold value for construction, if nitrogen emissions remain below a certain limit, construction projects can continue. What do you think of this decision?

'It is still somewhat unclear. A threshold resembles a norm. Is that a standard that monitors the emissions per project? Or per unit of time or machine? I can imagine that one will work with NOx (nitrogen oxides, ed.) Per euro of project value. I am very curious about how a well-substantiated threshold value will be introduced on the one hand and enforced and monitored on the other. I see that a lot is already possible in the field of tendering and low-emission awards. A lot is already possible with emission registration and data monitoring. However, it is still a challenge to make this widely accessible in the sector, both on the client side and on the contractor side.'