What are some of the new trenchless technologies being used to minimize carbon emissions?

By Bertus Vos | Last updated: July 7, 2023

The construction industry has been in the spotlight forever when it comes to carbon emissions. Construction accounts for almost 1/3rd of global energy consumption, and thus is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions.

To minimize the global carbon footprint left behind by the industry, new technological solutions are being constantly researched and tested.

One of the best technological advancements in the past decade has been the rise in the use of trenchless technology to install and rehabilitate pipelines. Studies have shown that when trenchless methods are used instead of the open-cut method, there is a significant reduction in carbon and other airborne emissions.

A study conducted by researchers at the Center for Advancement of Trenchless Technology (CATT), at the University of Waterloo found that trenchless construction methods reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78 to 100% compared to the traditional open-cut method.

Engineering studies are now also being conducted comparing trenchless emissions vs. traditional open-cut emissions for selection of methodology. Vermeer’s E-Calc and NASTT’s Carbon Calculator are designed to help contractors and clients to compare the potential environmental impact of open-cut and trenchless solutions and make the right decision.

The reduction in carbon emissions is mainly due to the non-disruptive nature of the technology that allows projects to be completed in shorter durations with lesser construction machinery.

Trenching, on the other hand, utilizes heavy machinery and requires roads to be closed off or bottle-necked resulting in inevitable traffic jams and the release of even more carbon dioxide by vehicles.

Trenchless equipment is being improved and upgraded on an ongoing and continuous basis. Companies are striving to meet the standards set out by the ever-tightening regulations of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Engineering practices are also being updated and new means and methods of execution are being diligently adopted. In urban settings, the installation of multi-use utility tunnels/ corridors installed by trenchless means allows for improved access, reduced risk, more efficient installation, and ease of maintenance and management during operation.

Trenchless equipment is also being updated by incorporating environment-friendly designs that use hybrid power motors, LED lighting, high-efficiency systems, and smaller and more compact loads.

The Pipe Express Method and the E-power pipe method have been some of the most recent advancements in the trenchless sector. E-power pipe was also awarded the Bauma Innovation Award 2019 in the machine category. Trenchless pipeline removal (TPR) is yet another innovation this decade that allows decommissioned, old buried pipelines to be completely removed without disturbing the ground.

TPR is conducted by performing a helical cut on the pipe using water-jet cutting. This causes the pipe to behave like a spring, effectively reducing its cross-section and therefore its soil-to-pipe friction. This allows the pipeline to be pulled out easily.

Other technologies that have driven the trenchless sector forward this decade are self-contained HDD rigs, HDD intersects, HDD Navigation and Location, Lateral repairs, Curved microtunneling and drilling waste disposal methods such as cuttings re-injection (CRI) to name just a few.

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Written by Bertus Vos | Co-Founder and Principal Engineer, BlueFox Engineering

Bertus Vos

Bertus Vos is one of the co-founders and principal engineers at BlueFox Engineering. He holds a bachelor of engineering degree from the University of Alberta, and a master of business degree from the University of Fredericton.

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