Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas: Environmental Management and Resilience
Using technologies in environmental management and resilience can help in reducing waste and moving to a circular economy, anticipating climate change impacts and improving resource and organisational efficiency.
Water risks mitigation
Using Advanced Sensing, in combination with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data analytics, allows for the identification of river, coastal and surface water flooding across Scotland. This requires implementing smart sensors across Scottish infrastructure, such as bridges, seashores or river banks to measure and analyse the current level of water and correlate this with weather conditions.
Advanced sensors can also be applied in drainage systems to allow better understanding of the capabilities of the system and to manage flood risk effectively. As a result of measurements, some areas deemed high risk might need significant infrastructure modification, for instance by installing new pumping capacity or raising roads.
Rivertrack is a website that gives people in flood risk areas a local flood alerting tool. The system uses low-cost sensors to send accurate time sensitive information to individuals about water levels in their local watercourse. In 2018, Scottish Flood Forum and SEPA supported community trials of this innovative tool.
Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR & VR) technologies can also help in mitigating water risks. The use of AR can help visualise a development and implement changes needed. This technology can be used for planning buildings and infrastructure development with relevance to mitigating flooding risk. It could be used, for example, to visualise flood mitigation infrastructure, such as sunken parks, designed to flood and mitigate water runoff, which could lead to reduced flood risk in those areas. An increasing focus in the management of storm water and excess run off is using green infrastructure (fields, meadows, etc.) and existing networks (e.g. canals) to better deal with high water levels. The use of sensors and predictive analytics is also important in this. The North Glasgow Integrated Water Management System has a project to create a so-called 'sponge city‘, to passively absorb, clean and use rainfall intelligently.
Water Purification Technologies, including water desalination, enable generation of drinking water from seawater and can thus help facilitate Circular Economy principles. Although generally considered a wet country, Scotland can be vulnerable to periods of dry weather (in the summer of 2018, for example) which can result in significant pressure on water supply. Additionally, climate change might impact on areas with no previous water scarcity issues. SEPA has launched The National Water Scarcity Plan to manage water resources during low rainfall periods. Installation of additional water purification and desalination points (based on a highly accessible raw material – seawater) could be an additional protection in the face of such events. Also, advanced predictive technologies can help in enabling simulations of water demand and supply levels across Scotland.
Designing infrastructure resilient to climate change
An increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change is likely to impact on infrastructure systems such as transport. The UK is set to get warmer and wetter, and some cities will be impacted by rising sea levels. Along with changes in temperature, this may have important implications for infrastructure design, operation and maintenance, and could increase the risk of disruptions, damage and failure of systems.
In terms of climate change mitigation, more stringent regulations on emissions may drive a preference for investments in greener modes of travel, such as renewable energy charging stations for electric vehicles, or better walking/cycling infrastructure.
In terms of adaptation, investments in the digitisation of climate-resilient infrastructure could lead to more centralised infrastructure design, allowing for smart risk management at a regional or country level.
Incorporation of Advanced Materials, such as advanced concrete, protective (water or sun resistant) nano coatings or self-healing materials affects the durability of infrastructure components, and could be used in creating roads resistant to temperature rise or flooding. For example, Water Energy Scotland has conducted research on the development of new advanced concrete, which is highly water resistant.
Using Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics, combined with advanced sensors, IoT, Big Data and Cloud Computing, allows for the analysis of historical data to predict upcoming events. For instance, in energy infrastructure, transmission lines can be designed within the limits of their capability in relation to historical air temperatures analysis. In the construction sector, bridges can be designed to withstand the requisite amount of flow rates. Another example is tunnels and bridges equipped with storm-water systems in cities with significant storm risks.
In 2013 the Scottish Government introduced a target to reduce Scotland's waste by 15% by 2025, which is a key plank of the circular economy approach. Many of the innovations in this space are reliant not just on technology developments, but are also driven by and drive new business models and ways of working.
Intelligent Waste Monitoring is a trend in achieving waste reduction targets. Smart and connected bins, equipped with Advanced Sensors to indicate fill levels, can be installed in public infrastructure to facilitate intelligent waste collection scheduling and for waste recycling assessment. The efficiency gains from this technology will be dependent on its interaction with current service profiles.
Scotland aims to recycle 70% of all waste and to send no more than 5% of all waste to landfill by 2025, but contamination is currently a barrier to high quality recycling. Even low levels of contamination can render materials unsuitable for reprocessing, thus losing value. The Scottish Statutory Code of Practice for Materials Recovery Facilities has introduced a sampling procedure to improve the transparency of waste and the quality of materials arriving for sorting. There is an increasing use of optical sorting (sometimes called digital sorting), which automates the process of sorting solid products using cameras and/or lasers. Electronic tracking methods are also being used, through technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning systems (GPS).
In future, the development and deployment of advanced monitoring, testing and sampling of materials will increasingly use Advanced Sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), and could start to benefit from Automation and Robotic solutions. All of this could be aided by Artificial Intelligence and Big Data in automating the analysis.
In parallel with the drive to reduce food waste, developments are happening in anaerobic digestion solutions and plants. Where thermal treatment plants are required, the Scottish Government supports high quality combined heat and power schemes.
The Scottish Government participates in DEFRA’s project to drive advancements in electronic waste tracking. Five companies working across the UK have recently been awarded up to £80,000 to develop innovative digital solutions to tackle the challenge of tracking waste from its source through its treatment and final disposal.
The projects include research into tracking waste through electronic chips and sensors, the use of blockchain, looking at common reporting platforms and new data analytics.
Continuous Water and Waste Monitoring Systems drives Water Safety
There are three key trends impacting on water and waste infrastructure: a) the drive to a more sustainable and circular economy to reduce resource use and waste; b) improving resilience: protecting and better managing assets as well as supply chains (e.g. for chemicals used in treatment plants); and c) digital transformation: the deployment of advanced IT services and solutions that will drive greater efficiency, safety and resource management.
Technologies including Advanced Sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT), Drones, Robotics and Blockchain will allow for continuous monitoring of water quality (pH, temperature, dissolved particles, chemicals) without the need for human intervention. The infrastructure for this will require implementation of water robots and drones equipped with a set of water sensors for autonomous measurements and an internet connection for data exchange between the drone and an IoT platform.
Advanced Materials, including nanomaterials, polymers, and composites are core components for the development of advanced membranes for water purification systems. Next-generation membranes based on polymer nanocomposites can be implemented at various levels: in homes for final purification or in water treatment plants to provide clean water. Pumping stations may also incorporate advanced materials for water cleaning purposes. Additionally, advanced coatings such as nanocoatings can be applied on connections and pipe structures to prevent corrosion and water pollution.
Advanced Sensing, combined with IoT, allows for the monitoring of the entire process of water management from sourcing (water pumping systems), water supply systems to the end user (private or public). Real-time water management, together with Artificial Intelligence (AI), can make automated decisions about whether the water can be consumed or needs purification. It might also enable the selection of specific membranes in the purification system with regards to the contaminations detected. The maintenance of water quality can also be enhanced with AI and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms for environmental prediction and pollution control. These predictive technologies require the implementation of additional hardware devices, such as sensors, as well as computers allowing for data storage and analysis.
Environmental monitoring Robots can be used for data capture, remote sensing and mapping areas where pollution is detected, allowing action to be taken to counter negative effects. Robots can also be deployed down water pipes to detect leaks and issues.
Waste management techniques can help in wastewater and water treatment, specifically to treat micro pollutants which could otherwise enter the ocean and harm aquatic biodiversity. Both nanotechnology and information technology could provide more sensitive detection systems for air and water quality monitoring too, allowing the simultaneous measurement of multiple parameters to prevent pollution. Although leak detection may have reached its maximum economic benefit, there may still be a value in using Satellite observations to support leak detection in more remote locations where other solutions may be uneconomic.
Decentralised solutions for local communities and getting energy from waste
As part of the Hydro Nation Strategy, the Scottish Government via Scottish Water has been researching new technology solutions to support the development and deployment of local, small scale solutions for drinking water and waste water. These solutions will be designed to run in a fully automated fashion using AI and IoT. One of the most interesting developments is how waste treatment facilities are able to generate increased (renewable) energy from their treatment processes, as heat is generated from the sludge generated. As a result, Scottish Water is now facilitating the generation of renewable energy amounting to more than twice the level of energy consumed by the organisation annually.
Driving sustainable use of water, reducing consumer impacts
The Scottish Government has installed Water Top Up Points across public buildings in over 30 cities and towns to encourage people to reduce plastic waste. Integration of sensors to show the quality of water in real-time would be helpful to convince people about the low risk of contamination. Use of connected devices, such as smartphones, tablets and wearable devices can help people know the quality of water in real time, which enables them to take necessary action, for example installing water filters in their homes if they feel it is necessary. The increasing adoption of smart meters in water utility companies, which is anticipated across Europe between now and 2030, is part of a drive to support changing consumer behaviour and ultimately demand, to help with resource management.
Design and simulation of water and wastewater infrastructure
Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR&VR) technologies may enable the visualisation and design of water and wastewater infrastructure automatically. Scottish Water has trialled the Dynamic Objects™ system of Atkins for drafting and estimating water and wastewater assets. The digital twin concept – a digital model or replica of a physical asset, product, process or system – would also allow utility bodies to simulate and test potential plans for improvements in water quality before physically implementing them.
Implications for environmental management infrastructure investment
- Smart technologies for system-wide operation and control could increase the efficiency of water infrastructure. Smart sensors and robots could deliver information about water quality to provide better data, as well as deliver repair techniques which are less disruptive to supply and more cost effective.
- Investments in water management infrastructure (green and conventional) in urban landscapes may significantly reduce the risk of flooding. Moves towards smart, green, sustainable excess rainfall management in urban areas will drive changes in infrastructure planning and design, which could be tested virtually using AR/VR or digital twins, before being deployed physically.
- All new buildings (residential, commercial, industrial) could incorporate water purification systems, including intelligent wastewater systems, enabling a circular economy across production.
- Advanced materials for pipes and connectors in the public water supply system could prevent corrosion, reducing maintenance costs.
- New skills in the water sector could be required. For example, local, automated wastewater treatment centres will require skilled operators for remote monitoring, with experience of technologies such as AI/ML and data analytics.
- Waste material monitoring, analysis and sampling will become increasingly automated, using advanced sensing and measurement technologies, as well as data analytics and AI. Investments in these areas and in new skills could be required to support this shift.
- To deliver the Circular Economy, current and planned waste and resource recovery infrastructure would require a number of interventions as there is both a lack of data and of investment. Data will need to be more compatible and there could be a requirement for a new approach to regulation. If successful, Scotland could export the model and the technology for a circular economy globally.
- Regulatory and legislative requirements, such as the Waste Framework Directive, require separate collections for recyclable materials. This will drive investment in collection and storage technology and infrastructure as well as more capacity to process these materials.
- The increasing amount of waste is leading to a growing demand for waste treatment infrastructure, including energy-from-waste (EfW) power plants. Investments in these plants, and in technologies such as anaerobic digestion, can support this growing demand.
Key 5-year perspectives
- Advanced materials (self-healing materials or protective nanocoatings), will be used for infrastructure components to withstand extreme weather and corrosion conditions, resulting in lower maintenance costs.
- Advanced sensors plus predictive technologies can be used to predict the nature of risk of weather-dependent events, e.g. water scarcity or flooding, and can be used to provide real-time assessment of contaminations in water.
- The Internet of Things (IoT) together with smart sensors will be incorporated by water supply companies to deliver information about water quality.
- New skills will be required in remanufacture, sustainable resource management, energy efficiency, repair and refurbishment.
Key 30-year perspectives
- On-demand 3D printing, connected with AI, can be used to autonomously deliver and produce the spare parts and elements of infrastructure such as pipes and connectors.
- Robots and automation technologies combined with AI will be used for water purification systems to enable autonomous processes.
- Augmented and Virtual Reality and digital twins can be used by public organisations for the visualisation and design of new water and wastewater infrastructure which will consider how to better support flood prevention in land use from a design perspective.
Implications for inclusive growth and the transition to a low carbon economy
- Predictive technologies allow for flood event detection at an early stage, better enabling its prevention, thus keeping people safe and preventing significant economic losses. These technologies might also support Scotland in preparing for water scarcity in low rain areas.
- New skills required in areas such as repair and refurbishment, if supported, can support economic restructuring.
- Circular economy principles and utilization of wastewater can contribute to fighting global water scarcity issues and reduce emissions.
- Implementation of continuous water purification and monitoring systems can help prevent tap water contamination.