Cutting carbon by 65% with help from renewable diesel

  • 23 Mar 2023
  • by
  • Hannah Rich, Head of Sustainability, Construction UK
A year on from implementing an Alternative Fuels Policy in the UK, Lendlease shares the progress made to eliminate fossil fuels from construction sites and lessons learnt along the way.

Tailpipe emissions from construction machinery have long posed a threat to human health, particularly in urban areas, and contributed to climate change.

But until recently, there were limited alternatives available on the market to replace fossil fuel diesel and petrol at scale.

In pursuit of Lendlease’s Mission Zero targets – to reach Net Zero Carbon by 2025 for Scopes 1 and 2, and Absolute Zero Carbon by 2040 for Scopes 1, 2 and 3, without offsets – we implemented an Alternative Fuels Policy in the UK to help eliminate fossil fuel use on our construction projects.

Just over a year later, I am pleased share insights into the success of the Policy, challenges we’ve faced along the way and direction we’re heading in next as we strive for carbon elimination.

Achieving a 65% reduction in construction-related fuel emissions

Our environmental performance data for FY22 showed that having an Alternative Fuels Policy in place made it possible to reduce Scope 1 emissions from construction operations by 65% compared to the previous year, despite overall fuel consumption almost doubling in the same period.

This was achieved by switching over three quarters of fuels to low carbon alternatives, such as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), a renewable diesel derived from used cooking oil. Had we not done this, Scope 1 emissions for our construction business would have been over 300% higher.

Carbon emissions chart

Getting supply chain support

Our journey with HVO began in 2021, when we worked closely with our supply chain to trial it across different work activities; starting with generators powering on-site accommodation and working up to concrete pumping, piling and excavation work.

Having proven successful, the adoption of HVO has been widely supported by our subcontractors.

Not only does it produce up to 90% less CO₂ emissions than traditional diesel and reduces localised air pollution, but it is also a drop-in fuel that can used in dump trucks, cranes, excavators and more without any modifications needed to the engines – mitigating the cost of buying new machinery.

HVO is an interim measure, not a solution

While we are using HVO on our projects to reduce emissions quickly, it is not a long-term solution, but a transition fuel on our journey to using 100% electric or green hydrogen powered plant and equipment.

We recognise that as demand for HVO grows across the industry, so does the risk of the supply coming from virgin sources, causing knock on environmental impacts such as deforestation. To counter this risk, we are committed to maximising traceability and verification of the provenance of renewable fuels we use.

We require that any HVO used on our sites is derived from used cooking oil. A ‘Proof of Sustainability’ document should evidence this with each fuel delivery, verifying the feedstock, and ensuring that it is not derived from virgin sources like palm oil.

Keeping our eye on the target

Our ultimate aim is for all construction machinery to be powered by renewable electricity by 2030, as set out in our latest Mission Zero Progress Report. To get there we are now focussing our efforts on:

  • Establishing a site renewable electricity connection early to reduce the need for temporary fuel-powered generators.
  • Reducing fuel usage through education, awareness, and more efficient practices.
  • Increasing the use of electric, hybrid or green hydrogen powered machinery and equipment.

Last year we worked with Bramble Energy, an innovative UK start-up, to trial portable hydrogen fuel cells at one of our Central London projects. The fuel cells were used to power the site’s temporary CCTV security system and environmental sensors used to monitor dust, vibration and noise which traditionally require hard-wired cabling or re-chargeable batteries.  

The trial provided us with invaluable experience and understanding of working with fuel cells on a live construction site. This included associated safety measures, logistics and frequency of changing the hydrogen supply, and connecting it to sensors and equipment.

Following this successful trial, we are looking to roll this technology out at sites that do not yet have the energy infrastructure available to connect to the grid, helping to avoid the need for fuel-powered generators.

Focussing our efforts where our impact is greatest

While it is critical to eliminate Scope 1 emissions from our construction business, which we have more direct influence and control over, our greatest opportunity and challenge lies in decarbonising our Scope 3 emissions.

These represent approximately 99 per cent of Lendlease’s carbon footprint in Europe – most of which comes from the embodied carbon associated with building materials like concrete and steel, which sit outside of our direct control.

We have started to tackle this through adopting innovative components-based design approaches that improve design efficiency to create less waste, reduce embodied carbon, and facilitate faster and safer construction practices.

The Pavilion, IQL, Stratford.The Pavilion, IQL, Stratford.

A great example of this is Lendlease’s Pavilion building at IQL, Stratford. Made almost entirely from timber, a naturally low carbon building material, it took just 14 weeks to erect the frame using only one crane, thanks to 90% of the superstructure being prefabricated off site – arriving as a giant kit of parts.

As we shift our focus more towards achieving Absolute Zero Carbon, we need to find ways to eliminate emissions altogether by working together with suppliers, competitors, peers and the public sector, ensuring we do all that we can to limit global warming to 1.5°C.