Carbon accounting tool completes Heathrow trial

Advanced lifecycle assessment software developed by Looper – an SME supported by Connected Places Catapult – has helped Ferrovial Construction to manage its carbon emissions at Heathrow Airport.

Accurately assessing carbon consumption on major projects is a challenging ask, but one that infrastructure contractors increasingly need to get to grips with in order to meet emissions reduction targets.

One tier one supplier keen to improve carbon recording and demonstrate environmental gains is Ferrovial Construction, which delivers new build and maintenance activities at Heathrow Airport.

Just over a year ago, the contractor appointed Looper – a start-up software firm – to conduct a 12-month trial of its new tool at the airport. Looper also took part in Connected Places Catapult’s most recent Advanced Construction Accelerator programme.

Construction activity under way at Heathrow airport

“One of our top priorities is to reduce carbon emissions, and we are keen to explore any new opportunities that help us,” explains Ferrovial Construction’s Innovation Manager for the UK and Ireland, Efi Tzoura. “The tool proved to be very valuable, and our trial generated interest among our suppliers, some of whom are now working together to develop innovations that could reduce their carbon footprints.”

Looper is designed to simplify the carbon management of construction projects and materials, in order for lifecycle emissions to be accurately assessed and reduced. Action can then be taken from both contractors and suppliers if outputs are deemed to be too high.

The artificial intelligence-enabled software works by aggregating data on carbon emissions for every component of a scheme – including ingredients to make concrete, steel, cables and pipework – allowing users to make informed decisions about how to cut their environmental footprints. The system also speeds up the process of obtaining Environmental Product Declarations.

Looper’s Chief Executive, Yiqiang Zhao explains that conventional carbon calculation systems rely on data received from many sources, and whose accuracy may be difficult to determine. But their new system takes carbon data directly from material manufacturers.

“Suppliers send information to the system, and clients with ambitions to reduce their carbon can use the software to create a plan and reduce their emissions by a set amount,” he says.

At Heathrow, his company worked with Ferrovial Construction’s supply chain to refine the accuracy of the carbon detail received, to help make improvements to the software.

Looper’s Chief Technology Officer, Shashwat Ganguly adds that contractors using the software can initially set a benchmark for carbon consumption, and see how much they can reduce emissions against that figure. “But it can be a balancing act of reducing carbon versus the commercial viability of making a change,” he says.

“We act as a ‘digital playground’ where companies can try different avenues to reduce their carbon, and see what the cost implications are for following through on each. With one click of a button, they can import their bill of quantities into our system and get a carbon assessment.”
Looper’s Chief Technology Officer, Shashwat Ganguly

The company has since split its offering into two software products: one for suppliers and another for contractors.

Airport makes savings

Ferrovial Construction’s Environmental Manager, William Burke says the first infrastructure project at Heathrow to use the new software was the creation of a substructure under one of the airport taxiways to accommodate a baggage handling facility. A new round of civil infrastructure works has since begun on site, and William is looking to see how the tool could be used elsewhere to identify carbon savings.

“Previously, we used an Excel spreadsheet to set a baseline figure for carbon in materials used, and had two additional spreadsheets: one accounting for the actual carbon footprint and another showing opportunities where we could reduce carbon. But now we use Looper, it does all three.”

Ferrovial Construction is looking to reduce carbon emissions at Heathrow by as much as 35% by 2030. The new software will be used to help the team identify carbon ‘hotspots’, allowing them to work with material designers to see where reductions can be made.

The company’s Environmental Sustainability Manager, Ailish Byrne says: “As we move towards a greater use of off-site construction such as precast concrete units, Looper is helping us capture carbon footprints of bespoke products and look at the manufacturing process in more detail.”

She adds that software can help make material suppliers more aware of how carbon intense their processes can be, and what can be done to see reductions. “If suppliers are committed to net zero, we will want to work with them and support them on their journey.” She adds that tools such as Looper can create a “low carbon mindset, helping people think about carbon at each stage of a project”.

Ferrovial Construction’s Environmental Advisor, Jack McEwan says: “For our infrastructure maintenance works, we hope to make a host of changes using the tool, such as introducing hydrotreated vegetable oil in our plant vehicles in place of diesel, which offers a 90% reduction in carbon.

“We have also been trialling several low carbon concrete mixes across many of our projects, saving thousands of tonnes of carbon,” he adds. When excavating concrete and clearing space to build the recent baggage handling substructure, the company crushed concrete on site and reused it as secondary aggregate, helping to save lorry movements that would otherwise have brought in new material. Using the Looper tool, the team can calculate how much carbon was saved.

Small company thinks big

Looper’s ascent has been rapid. Four months after starting out, it joined Connected Places Catapult’s HS2 Accelerator programme, followed by it winning a place on the Advanced Construction Accelerator.

“Without the help of the Catapult, it would have taken us longer to talk to the right people. We want to make lifecycle design accessible to every business, so all companies have the right tools to transition towards net zero and a circular economy.”
Yiqiang Zhao, Looper’s Chief Executive

He offers this advice for other entrepreneurs: “Never give up. Keep trying, fail fast and try again.”

Shashwat Ganguly says the Looper software can be applied “across several sectors and regions” and says he wants to help break “any resistance to the uptake of carbon calculation for projects”.

He adds that working with the Catapult “gave us a community network of other start-ups. There were lots of events, and we received useful advice around stakeholder management, marketing and developing a business strategy. It certainly helped to broaden our thinking.”