Live Labs – update from Central Bedfordshire Council

The ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme is a two-year, £22.9m project funded by the Department for Transport that will run until November 2021.

The programme, managed and developed by the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT), is developing new SMART approaches across communications, materials, energy solutions and mobility. Projects range from harvesting renewable energy from roads and innovative data analytics to using plastics in road surfacing treatment.

Jack Bowers, Principal Highways Liaison Officer at Central Bedfordshire Council and ADEPT member talks about his local authority’s work on the Live Labs programme.

Central Bedfordshire Council, which secured £1.05m for its Live Labs programme, is one of eight local authority led Live Labs aiming to transform local places and highways through piloting innovation across energy, data, materials and mobility.

When we originally bid for a share of the funding, we were keen to work on projects that focused on climate change, to align with the council’s carbon reduction vision. We also wanted to focus on innovative technology – so we chose three projects that met this criteria.

Our first project is focused on thermal energy.

We have installed five geo-thermal probes into the ground, 150 metres down into the car park for one of our depots. The geothermic probes respond when the temperature drops to freezing and de-ice the car park. Underneath the road surface are rods which connect to the geothermal proves, these connect to wiring which effectively act as underfloor heating, enabling our vehicles to continue operating safely and saving money on gritting salt. The heat is contained in an on-site geothermal storage unit, and can also be used to heat the depot, providing further savings on energy bill costs. This scheme is progressing really well and is on course to be complete by the end of April 2021.

So far, the project has been well received – it is expensive technology though and needs to be installed at the beginning of a build, otherwise resurfacing is required.

Working with Ringway Jacobs, West Midlands Trains and technology provider Pavegen, the second project is a kinetic walkway, based at Leighton Buzzard train station. Launched in April 2021, the walkway is the first of its kind at a UK transport hub and utilises kinetic energy from commuters’ footsteps to generate energy.

Leighton Buzzard train station has a high footfall and the energy generated from this will be used to power two USB charging benches, and a digital data screen at the station. The data screen will show commuters their contribution and can host important messages.

This new technology is exciting because it engages people, giving them instant information about how much energy they have created, illustrating the connection between people and energy created through movement. In the future, this technology could be used to power other technology such as road signs and streetlights.

One of our biggest challenges in launching the project was around Covid-19. Although the technology has been installed for a few months, we had to wait until now to formally launch it to the public. It did give us time to address some snagging issues around the installation though.

Our third project is around solar innovation. We have installed solar panels directly onto the road surface. Vehicles can still drive directly on the panels, in the same way as a regular road surface, whilst the panels generate power through sunlight at the same time. We have 216 modules which can generate up to 17,000 kilowatts per hour: that is enough energy to provide electricity for around five houses per year.

This energy will be stored, with the intention of using it to light and heat our depot building. Our aim is for the depot to be run purely on renewable energy. It would help with our local authority’s aim to become carbon neutral by 2030, as set out in the council’s sustainability plan.

Our next steps – along with Cranfield University – will be looking at the results of the trials and considering how we could branch out further. We will be led by the data and will share this with others. Underpinning the Live Labs project is the desire to accelerate innovation in the local roads sector, and we hope these projects will encourage other areas to go green with pioneering technology.

We know that this technology is not going to resolve all our energy issues and the climate crisis, but we truly believe that these pilot projects could be scaled up and be part of a solution.

The ADEPT SMART Places programme is supported by ADEPT’s corporate partners: SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP. It launched on 31st May 2019.

Photo Credit – ADEPT


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