Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE credits
The global understanding that natural resources and non renewable energy sources are not inexhaustible has been growing lately together with the increase of conscientiousness on the consequences that our demanding way of life has on the environment. Global warming, ozone layer depletion, the greenhouse effect or the acid rain, are some of these consequences, which may reach catastrophic levels if nothing is done to emend the actual situation. Lately, society is beginning to see sustainability not only as a needed requirement but as a distinctive value which has to be pursued by the different areas of society involved and responsible for a sustainable development such as public administration and companies, engineers and researchers. As a fundamental part of society, infrastructures have utmost importance in sustainable development. Even more when it comes to rail transport infrastructure, given the important role of rail transport in the development of a sustainable society. That is why engineers should make an effort to use all the tools available to choose the best structural design, which not only meets structural requirements, but has also a good performance for the environment. To do so, engineers must focus on using renewable sources or energy and materials, increasing the life of the existing infrastructures, making them more durable. When it comes to railway bridges, it is preferable to reuse and adapt existing structures than tear them down to build new ones.
In this line, environmental assessment methodologies provide an incredibly valuable tool for help decision-makers and engineers to identify and select the best alternative design regarding environmental issues. Therefore, it is important to count on a common basis and established criteria together with a systematic methodology in order to obtain reliable results to compare alternatives and make the right decisions. However, nowadays, there exists very little guidance to perform this kind of analysis, and an extensive variety of databases and methodologies non standardized, which leads to uncertainties when it comes to evaluate and compare the obtained results.
This thesis means to be a good guide for engineers, when performing a Life Cycle Assessment of a railway bridge, and to become a useful tool to compare several alternatives to identify the best option relating the environmental burdens involved. With this purpose, in order to know the state of the art of LCA methodology, it has been studied a wide range of existing literature and previous studies performed to analyze bridges and building materials. Finally, it has been developed an own methodology based on all the research done before, and implemented in an Excel application program based on Visual Basic macros, which means to be easy to use with a simple user interface, and to provide reliable results. The application is useful for assessing, repair or improving existing bridges, where the amounts of materials and energy are known, but can also be helpful in the design phase to compare different alternatives. It also allows using different weighting methodologies according to several reference sources depending on the case of study.
The application is tested by carrying out a Life Cycle Assessment of a Spanish railway bridge located in the city center of Vitoria-Gasteiz, evaluating the different structures that conform the bridge system thorough all the stages of its life cycle identifying the most contributive parameters to the environmental impacts. The study was carried out over a 100 year time horizon. In the case of performing the LCA of this particular bridge, the contribution of the whole bridge is taken into consideration. When comparing two different bridges, the application has the option to compare them in the same basis, dividing by length and width of the bridge, which is a helpful tool if both bridges are not the same size. All stages of the life cycle were considered: the material stage, construction, the use and maintenance stage, and the end of life. The material stage includes the raw material extraction, production and distribution. The construction stage accounts the diesel, electricity and water consumption during construction activities. The use and maintenance stage covers the reparation and replacing operations. And the end of life covers several scenarios. In this case of study, in order not to interrupt the rail traffic, the bridge was constructed parallel to its final location, and then moved into the right place with hydraulic jacks. This leads to an important auxiliary structure with its own foundations, which has a significant contribution to the overall environmental impact. The scenario chosen for the end of life was based on similar actuation in other constructions in the proximities of the bridge, as the bridge is already in use. These assumptions were to recycle 70 % of the concrete and 90 % of the steel; all the wood used for formwork was disposed as landfill.
The results obtained, weighted according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, shows that the main contributor to the environmental impacts is the material phase, with the 64 % of the total weighted results with concrete and steel production as principal factors, followed by timber production. These processes account great amounts of CO 2emissions, which makes essential to focus on reducing the impact of the material processes by optimizing the processes but mainly by reusing materials from other constructions as much as it may be possible. The maintenance activities have some importance due to the frequency of the track replacement, assumed to be once every 25 years. While construction does not imply great burdens for the environment, the end of life causes the 33 % of the overall bridge impact. This is due to the timber formwork disposal as landfill and to a lesser extent because of the recycling of the steel. The timber disposal increases widely the eutrophication effect, and will be easy to be reused in further constructions. Regarding the different parts of the bridge structure, the auxiliary structure has an important contribution with the 61 % of the overall weighted impact. As it is a concrete bridge, both the substructure and superstructure has similar contribution. The substructure has a slightly higher impact with the 21 % and the superstructure the 15 %. Rail structure and transport have very little contribution.
2011. , 154 p.
Life Cycle Assessment, LCA, Railway Bridges, Environmental impact assessment, pre-stressed concrete bridges