Climate change

How to address climate change through innovation?

27 of February of 2023

I was in the fourth year of my chemical engineering degree when I realised I wanted to follow a career in the environmental sector. It comes from my experiences of travelling, seeing how some areas of the planet are being affected and wanting to do my part in preserving it.

I had my interview for the Ferrovial Construction FUTURES graduate scheme in January 2020 and started that September, after the first wave of COVID-19, on the Tideway project in central London. After a year I was transferred to Heathrow.

Not a regular office job

In terms of work and responsibilities, Ferrovial offers you a level of responsibility that is incredibly exciting from day one. After just a couple of weeks at Heathrow, I was looking after five projects. There has been a real range of work and big project experience, both challenging and rewarding.

I am now in the last stage of the grad scheme, working as an assistant environmental advisor. I have worked on some of the major projects at the airport. Initially, this was landside projects, including critical works to the Heathrow firemain, a fire protection network covering the terminals, airfields and the London underground. 

But since I received my airside pass, after a six-month process of background checks, I have worked on the runway and KAD (Kilo Apron Development), our two flagship projects. Walking on the Heathrow runway is pretty cool and not something you get in a regular office job.

There has also been lots of sustainability work: reporting on carbon and waste, tracking everything we use, gathering data and finding trends and looking for essential innovations.

Our environmental team has innovation meetings every couple of weeks to present ideas and discuss sustainability, cutting carbon and tackling climate change. We also have regular meetings with our counterparts on other Ferrovial projects in the UK – Tideway, Silvertown, HS2 and head office – to learn about the different sustainability initiatives happening at our sites. It is such a valuable part of our jobs.

New plant fuel is the cutting veg

Early last year, we were looking at ways to reduce our carbon.

We did a Toolbox Talk to staff at Heathrow about moving all of our plant off red diesel and on to hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO), which comes from used cooking oils, fats and other renewable sources. Most engines can use HVO without any modifications. 

HVO is a much cleaner fuel and provides a carbon saving of 93% compared to diesel. Since April, we have been using HVO at Heathrow. We were the first Ferrovial project to fully introduce this innovation. 

We have found reliable external suppliers and developed sustainable procurement plans for HVO. We have also spoken to sub-contractors and the vast majority have been happy to switch over too. We assessed HVO and found it has similar performance and fuel efficiency to diesel, so we put a case study about this on the Knowledge Hub.

HVO is a stepping stone towards an electric fleet. There are challenges with mechanics, availability and cost, but our hope would be to go all-electric within 10 years. 

Not glamorous, but super practical

Another great innovation I have worked on is a replacement for the nappies that go underneath plant on construction sites to prevent fuel drips going on to hardstandings or down drains. During my environmental inspections, I had noticed these were rarely being deployed correctly.

Our team discovered EnviroPads. When fuel drops on to an EnviroPad it reacts with a special polymer and solidifies into a rubber-like substance. There is no run-off and no dripping as you take the pad to the bin. You can pick them up, fuel won’t leak out and your hands won’t get oily. You can wash them down and reuse them, so they last much longer. With instructions written on the front, they are almost foolproof. They reduce waste, carbon and cost.

Plant nappies have been such a staple, so we wanted to make sure our team knew how beneficial this new product could be. The manufacturer Green Rhino did a brilliant practical demo on site.

Now on our inspections we can see Enviropads are being used properly. We are looking at boosting their use around the airport and on other projects. It isn’t the most glamorous innovation, but it is great to see it working.

Team working on carbon tool trials

Ferrovial Construction will be introducing vital new tools which more easily and accurately calculate and monitor our carbon footprint data: our fuel and water usage, our electricity consumption and waste. 

I have been part of the team speaking with three different external carbon tool developers. We are trialling different algorithms and what kind of user interface will work best, not just at Heathrow but company-wide. 

Just the start of my Ferrovial journey

The grad scheme has been so good for me. As well as the project experience, I have had opportunities to present project work to panels of CEOs, attend industry award ceremonies and delivered hole-company presentations on the science of climate change. I have also been taking Spanish lessons and have been practising with my Spanish colleagues.

I will be finishing the scheme in July and I am looking forward to continuing my journey with Ferrovial. I am planning to take my practitioner exam, the first stage of my chartership, through the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) next month, if all goes well.

Climate change and carbon work is fascinating and I want to do much more in the future. Eventually, I can see myself being involved in work around climate change policy, legislation and regulation.

Scientists will rise to the climate challenge

The world won’t stop for idealist dreams, so the best thing we can do is educate. Let’s get the message out about what is actually happening, share facts that people cannot dispute.

The global science community is certainly up for the challenge of addressing the causes and effects of climate change and I am happy to be a part of that with Ferrovial.

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