Life cycle assessment of winter road maintenance


Purpose: Winter road maintenance in the Nordic climate is demanding due to challenging weather conditions, high precipitation, and icy conditions. As a leading country in the transition to low-emission transport, Norway must work to reduce their emissions while providing a safe level of service through winter maintenance operations. This article investigates the environmental impacts of winter road maintenance (WRM) in Norway both today and under a climate change scenario predicted for 2050. Methods: Life cycle assessment (LCA) is used to evaluate the environmental impact of the functional unit “average winter road maintenance in Norway on national and county roads per km.lane.” The ReCiPe (hierarchy) method was used to identify and categorize emissions related to WRM to show how different factors affect the system and to reveal hidden emissions hotspots. Real-time data from WRM vehicles were used to determine how fuel consumption is affected by gradient and weather. Producers and operators provided other relevant information on WRM vehicles. Official reports supplied information on deicer quantities used and the total distance driven by WRM vehicles in Norway. Results and discussion: The quantity of deicer used is the main source of emissions contributing toward all impact categories. The effect of deicer is likely to be even higher in certain impact categories. The environmental impact of the deicer after application is not included. The representation of WRM in existing emissions data is limited despite the considerable amount of deicer applied and the long distances that WRM vehicles travel. The results document how energy use throughout the system is another important source of emissions. Various parameters, such as road gradient, vehicle properties, driver behavior, and weather, affect the fuel consumption of WRM vehicles, with weather being the most important of these. Conclusions: Significant potential for emissions reductions from WRM was found, and WRM operations should be included in cold-climate road LCA studies. The environmental impacts of deicer application are especially high compared to the mechanical clearing of roads and contribute strongly to impact categories such as terrestrial, freshwater, and human toxicity and to the formation of particulate matter.

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Holger Wallbaum
Holger Wallbaum
Full Professor, Vice-Head of Department and Vice-Dean for Research

Holger is a Full Professor in sustainable building at the Division of Building Technology, research group Sustainable Building, and in the Area of advance Building Futures. Holger works within sustainable building on concepts, tools and strategies to enhance the sustainability performance of construction materials, building products, buildings as well as entire cities.