HS2’s Carbon Manager, Mark Fenton shares HS2’s plan to reduce carbon emissions across the railway network with Mimi Ibrahim in Focus Magazine, Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics, May 2022

What methods are being utilised to ensure that HS2 has achieved net-zero throughout the entire network by 2035?

The net-zero carbon plan published earlier at the start of this year sets out some new commitments and targets – primarily achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2035. As part of this, we have a series of stepping stone targets to get us to that point. We have a target to reduce whole-life carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. We will achieve this by applying the carbon reduction hierarchy.

We’re implementing that by working with our supply chain and engaging with industry groups and research organisations so that we can identify and implement lower-carbon materials, use alternative fuels, renewable energy, and new construction methods.

All the various designs to reduce the carbon footprint of the program and support the decarbonisation of the UK construction sector and we’re achieving approximately a 25% reduction across phase one. Some of the ways that we’re doing that are by employing the latest design thinking and techniques. For example, we benefited from wind tunnel testing and snow modelling and made some small incremental changes in the reef design. That’s allowed us to reduce the thickness of the material that’s being used in the roof design to optimise it and that’s resulted in some significant cost and carbon savings.

What are the biggest challenges that are taking place on the route to decarbonisation at the moment?

It’s a complex program and has a massive supply chain and there are a lot of people to engage with and bring along with on the net-zero carbon journey. It’s also our biggest opportunity as we have access to some of the brightest minds in the industry with the best ideas to help us to deliver the innovation that we need for our net-zero carbon plan. The biggest opportunity for carbon reduction is concrete and steel, soil stabilisation, and the energy that’s consumed to transport materials and products around our sites.

How will HS2 be powered by zero-carbon electricity?

That’s a commitment set out in our net zero carbon plan. It means that our trains, stations, steppers, and infrastructure will use zero-carbon electricity from day one of operation and our passengers will enjoy zero-carbon journeys. Part of how we’ll do that is it our stations and our depots will generate our own zero-carbon electricity. So, for example, through the low carbon and zero-carbon energy generation technology. But additionally, we’ll also purchase zero-carbon electricity.

We’re at the early planning stages of this. The exact approach is still being defined, but it’s likely that it will be a portfolio of approaches and contracts. For example, it might use power purchase agreements where we’re buying zero-carbon electricity from electricity generators.

HS2’s carbon footprint is set to be measured and assured over the whole life of your assets, which will cover 120 years of service. How will you fulfil this ambition?

In terms of our carbon accounting, we do that in accordance with all of the industry best practice standards and using our carbon management system. We look at the whole life of carbon emissions throughout design, construction, and operation. As the design matures, we get better quality data as we move into construction, we get construction data and then as we move into operation, we’ll continue to quantify, monitor, and report carbon emissions throughout the operational period and use that to manage and minimise our impact through time.

What sorts of technology are being used to tackle carbon emissions for HS2?

We want to design intelligently so that we’re using less concrete steel diesel in the first instance. A large part of it is about doing things differently in terms of new materials, technologies, and a new construction plant. In conjunction with Carol Black, we’re deploying and piloting a new building method. So, it could provide zero-carbon energy to our stations. It’s called Hiper pile it draws ground heat up through the foundations of what’s going to be a newly built construction site office and calibre, who developed the innovation, the estimate that that technology will harness enough energy to supply about 80% of the building’s heating and hot water. Then, in the summer, the technology can be reversed so it can be used as an air conditioning system to cool the building by transferring heat back into the ground. And the additional benefit of the innovation is that it also takes advantage of new piling techniques. It swaps a solid concrete foundation pile for a recyclable hollow pile made from steel industry waste product and that reduces the carbon-intensive cement content by up to about 70%.

Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about?

HS2 will deliver zero-carbon journeys to hundreds of thousands of people every day, and it will not only change how people travel, but also move goods around by rail rather than road, as HS2 will free up capacity on the existing network. There will be more space for freight trains and that will get more lorries taken off the road. Every lorry that we can take off the roads and use an extra freight train removes up to 76 lotteries from our roads, and so that will help reduce traffic, reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. One key point is that about 25% of the carbon emissions from HS2 come from the transport of material to the site and their subsequent construction and installation activities. The profession that makes up your membership have a critical role in helping us to deliver carbon reduction and get to net-zero. We can do that in a way that reduces costs, reduces carbon emissions, improves air quality, and delivers safety benefits. We want to engage with professionals from various communities of practice, and because we’re all in this together, it’s a collective endeavour to get to net-zero.