- Updated: 28 April, 2017
- Author: Rob Curd
As well as applications that tackle problems in design or construction, the panel have also identified the specific challenge of resource scarcity and security which they are hoping to highlight.
Natural and manufactured resources provide the raw materials with which civil engineers work and from which civil engineering artefacts are made, used and decommissioned.
The term 'resources', however, has far wider interpretations, embracing people, skillsets, finance and suchlike, while the metabolism of our urban and rural centres of population, no matter what the scale, rely wholly on the flows of resources – water, energy and food being core requirements.
While resource usage naturally influences a civil engineers' daily activities, the broader compelling issue lies in current and future resource scarcity and resource security – it is an issue that affects every aspect of civil engineering and, importantly, cuts across the 'engineering silos' of expertise; yet it is an issue that is in danger of being neglected.
A graphic example is provided by the fact that construction, indeed reinforced concrete production alone, accounts for more than half of all global resource extraction.
This topic, which is discussed in more detail by Rogers et al. (2017), has been identified as an appropriate cross-cutting theme for the Spring 2017 Call for Proposals for the ICE's Research & Development Enabling Fund.
A workshop to help frame this Call for Proposals was held with invited individuals who are leading thinkers on this topic and the following questions for the civil engineering industry emerged:
- What is the interplay between resource scarcity, criticality, security and efficiency?
- What roles, responsibilities and capabilities do (or should) engineers have to improve resource efficiency, enhance resource security and reduce resource scarcity? How can civil engineers be empowered to be ambassadors for responsible resource use?
- If current undervaluing of resources contributes to their overuse and dispersion, do we need to change the units we use to value resources, the parts of the life cycle we place a value upon, and/or our business models to more accurately reflect holistic valuing of resources? How do (and should) codes and standards mandate or encourage responsible resource use?
- Resources have a hierarchy of potential (potable water versus toilet flushing, virgin aggregates versus recycled aggregates), therefore can industrial symbiosis and/or circular economy principles be applied to enable more responsible resource use? How can what we currently consider 'waste' become more routinely and universally a resource, and how can we prevent the production of low-value co-products?
- What would 'Fairtrade' look like for civil engineering resource procurement? Can an efficiency rating be created for civil engineering resource use?
- The UK has an opportunity to set the standard and provide a world lead in this area, and export the thinking to developing countries whose resource use is yet to peak – how is this best achieved? Conversely, is there good practice to be drawn from other countries?
The above, and similar, questions are intended to prompt applications to the R&D Enabling Fund with the aim of enhancing the evidence base needed to support radical changes towards a more sustainable and resilient future. The findings from this R&D are required to be presented at an ICE event, as well as to form the subject of a paper and/or a briefing note to be published in relevant parts of the ICE Proceedings, thus ensuring that they are brought to the attention of the ICE's members.
As well as the above the fund will also welcome applications from all branches of the profession including younger members and those not traditionally involved in R&D.
A broad interpretation of R&D will be made by the panel including the collation and dissemination of existing research.
Full details of the R&D Enabling Fund can be found in the Research and Development Enabling Fund Application Guidelines.
Rogers CDF, Hunt DVL, Leach JM, Purnell P and Roelich KE (2017). Resource Scarcity and Resource Security – A Suppressed Civil Engineering Challenge. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Waste and Resource Management, Volume 170, Issue 2.