NCE Future Cities report out now

Producing the latest issue of NCE’s report on sustainable cities of the future in collaboration with Base London was highly problematic because there are so many amazing things happening in this area, and only a limited amount of space in which to cover it.

The Future Sustainable Cities report for London is in the 27/06/2013 issue of NCE
The Future Sustainable Cities report for London is in the 27/06/2013 issue of NCE

Of all the features, which include London’s transport priorities, alternative transport modes, decentralised energy and waste reduction, my favourite was the piece on smart infrastructure.  Meeting the team at Cambridge University’s Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) was a huge highlight, and it was refreshing to see so many women working at the cutting edge of the industry. Female researchers such as Heba Bevan and Njemile Faustin have been taking their smart technologies into the heart of London’s biggest construction projects such as Crossrail and London Bridge, to really get the measure of new infrastructure.

“There has been a revolution in sensor technology and the purpose of our centre is really to exploit that for construction and infrastructure,” explained Professor Robert Mair, the centre’s principal investigator .

The implications of the centre’s work are revolutionary. Infrastructure of the future will be able to report its condition remotely using the network of wireless sensors ensuring that sudden catastrophic failures are a thing of the past, and at a less sensational level ensuring that the true condition of assets is genuinely known – something that would make regulators in the rail and water industries extremely happy. “There are two aspects to this, existing infrastructure of which there is a whole world out there of old tunnels and existing bridges; and then new construction opportunities,” says Mair.

FCrick05_Pile cage in place
The pile cage at the new Francis Crick Institute is instrumented with fibre optic strain cables before being dropped into place.

As smart as this would be smarter still is the potential for self-powering MEMS (micro electro mechanical systems) sensors. “In an ideal world you would have a sensor that powers itself. The advantage of MEMS is that it is low power and it is using semi-conductor device technology made out of etched silicon. By etching it you can make a MEM machine,” says centre director Dr Jennifer Schooling who explains that one of the PhD students has designed a vibration energy harvester which can harvest energy over a range of frequencies. “The sensor is located on something that vibrates like a bridge with traffic or a tunnel where trains are rattling past then you can make use of the vibrations and store the energy. The sensor takes the reading and uses the harvested energy to transmit the information wirelessly, and that is our holy grail,” says Mair.

Read the full report here

Another major innovation that unfortunately didn’t make the final cut was a piece on urban agriculture.  Sustainable farming pioneers Tom Webster and Kate Hoffman have worked together to found a project called GrowUp where aquaponic technology is used in buildings to create urban farms. Read more about GrowUp here

A demonstration project, the GrowUp Box, is located at Marlborough Playground near London Bridge
A demonstration project, the GrowUp Box, is located at Marlborough Playground near London Bridge

Find out more about sustainable infrastructure in London on 11 July at Base London (SportsDock, University of East London, University Way, London, E16 2RD).   I will be there researching the next report.

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