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Unlocking Sustainability in Infrastructure: Innovations That Paint a Greener Future

Infrastructure is a multifaceted term, encompassing a diverse array of structures and systems that have evolved organically over decades, if not centuries. This intricate nature makes finding a one-size-fits-all solution to decarbonize a complex challenge. Rather than proposing a global approach, this article will explore innovative ideas that have gained momentum in recent years.

Pedaling into a Solar-Powered Era

man riding a bike in downtown areaSustainable infrastructure extends beyond its physical form to encompass modes of transportation like public transit. The adverse effects of internal combustion engine vehicles, such as CO2 emissions and harmful pollutants, underline the urgency of transitioning to cleaner options. Embracing public transport powered by renewable energy sources not only curbs CO2 emissions but also fosters cleaner, healthier urban environments. Electric vehicles, including cars, buses, scooters, bikes, and trains, are readily available alternatives that warrant widespread adoption. Notably, countries like the Netherlands have championed green transportation, boasting more bicycles than residents – an impressive feat that not only promotes exercise but also contributes to cleaner air and healthier budgets.

Innovations have paved the way for unique intersections of sustainable elements. An illustrative example lies in South Korea, where a 35km bike lane incorporated into a highway features solar panels as a protective canopy, demonstrating the harmonious synergy between different components.

Empowering Commuters through Turnstile Energy Generation

Sustainable transportation extends beyond vehicles themselves to encompass the broader infrastructure that supports them. An innovative solution involves repurposing turnstiles, the small rotating gates found in transit systems, into energy generators. This creative approach, exemplified by a prototype at the Parisian metro station Miromesnil, taps into the kinetic energy generated by commuters passing through these gates. The concept showcases the potential for widespread energy generation across transit networks, contributing to a greener future. Madrid's underground system is also poised to embrace this technology, further harnessing the power of turnstiles to energize their operations.

Bioreactors: Cultivating Urban Greenery

Urban landscapes often face constraints that limit traditional tree planting. The concept of bioreactors, epitomized by the "Liquid3" prototype developed by a Serbian company, offers a solution. This 3m² structure boasts a 600-liter water tank housing specific algae that facilitates the growth of mature trees even in spatially restricted areas. The bioreactor not only provides shade through a solar panel-equipped rooftop but also offers a convenient resting place for urban dwellers. Moreover, the algae within contribute to CO2 reduction through photosynthesis and enhance air quality, embodying sustainable innovation.

Swimming Pools: Diving into Sustainability

Swimming pools are integral to urban infrastructure but often demand substantial maintenance and carry a significant ecological footprint. Innovations aimed at enhancing sustainability are emerging. A compelling example arises from Brussels, where the Free University of Brussels implemented rain and wastewater collection systems in combination with a biomass-based co-generation plant for its swimming pool. This initiative led to a remarkable 70% reduction in water consumption and a 500-ton annual decrease in CO2 emissions, illustrating the potential of sustainable models in this sector.

Reshaping Construction with Reused Plastic

Plastic waste remains a global concern, with a substantial portion ending up in landfills. Repurposing plastic waste for construction materials offers a promising avenue for reducing environmental impact. Notably, initiatives like façade-tiles crafted from recycled PVC products demonstrate the potential of integrating plastics into construction. A pioneering instance is the Sint-Oelbert Gymnasium school complex in the Netherlands, which showcases a permanent building featuring such elements, marking a step towards more sustainable construction practices.

Radiant Solutions for Cooling

Buildings' facades hold untapped potential for energy conservation. Addressing this, Xiulin Ruan, a mechanical engineering professor at Purdue University, spearheaded an innovative project aimed at creating an extraordinarily reflective coating. This coating, boasting a 98% sun reflection rate, aims to reduce air-conditioning usage by up to 40% in applicable buildings. While not a comprehensive solution for climate change, this innovation addresses a notable energy consumption source, contributing to a greener future.

In conclusion, sustainable infrastructure necessitates an innovative mindset that transforms traditional systems into ecological powerhouses. From solar-powered transit networks to turnstile-generated energy and bioreactors fostering urban greenery, these ideas offer glimpses into a future where sustainability and functionality harmoniously coexist. Through inventive adaptations in diverse sectors, we inch closer to a world where sustainability takes center stage, paving the way for a brighter tomorrow.

Contributing authors:

Moritz Scholz, Sustainability Consultant, Schneider Electric

Nenad Obradovic, Sustainability Consultant, Schneider Electric

This article first appeared in the GRESB newsroom. To view, click here