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Life Cycle Assessment of Railway Bridges: Developing a LCA tool for evaluating Railway Bridges (Civil Project)

This project 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.
Source: KTH
Authors: García San Martín, Lorea

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