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Towards the circular sustainability transition in road infrastructure

Time: Wed 2024-05-29 13.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

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Language: English

Subject area: Civil and Architectural Engineering, Structural Engineering and Bridges

Doctoral student: Zhuhuan Liu , Väg- och banteknik

Opponent: Associate professor Katherina Varveri, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

Supervisor: Professor Nicole Kringos, Väg- och banteknik; Assistant professor Maria Chiara Cavalli, Väg- och banteknik

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QC 20240506


Grounded in the context of global climate change and the pressing demand for carbon-neutral practices in road infrastructure management, the road sector has had a long history of extensive efforts to pursue sustainability. However, navigating the complex road and pavement system to the circular economy is a multi-dimensional and time-consuming endeavour. Obstructed by lock-in mechanisms of the prevailing "take-make-dispose" linear mode, the current circular economy studies in road engineering often focus only on one certain type of practice, featured by fragmentation from a system perspective. To assist the systemic circular transition of the road sector, this doctoral thesis offers a comprehensive retrospection on the current road management system and aims to find pathways to kick off this transition with the opportunities brought by digitalization and electrification in the Industry 4.0 era.

In order to understand the current status of road infrastructure management and the hurdles to the transition, this thesis began with a historical lens and established two systematic literature reviews that have summarized the traditional practices in road and pavement management, which have also provided a structured investigation of the research gaps and barriers towards the future transformation of smart road infrastructure. The conclusions from these two reviews indicate that marginal changes in the current practice of road management will only lead to burden shifting, instead of enabling the occurrence of the circular transition. One of the key conclusions is that the onset of the transformation process needs systemic thinking and collaboration among stakeholders.

Therefore, based on two case studies in Sweden, this thesis takes a step further to find the alignment between technical complexity and actor complexity and find the pathways to the transition with systemic-level solutions. By applying multidisciplinary knowledge from management science, these two case studies exemplify how to create a common vision for sustainability with active stakeholder participation, offering an important aspect of the effective navigation towards the sustainability transition in the road sector. With different research focuses and diverse combinations of tool-kits in these two case studies, the first case study on Digital Transport Southern Stockholm emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between authorities and the industry and involving all relevant stakeholders in a more dynamic way; and the second case study on Zero-emission Contracting SödertörnCrosslink suggested a sector-wide readiness to embrace change, contingent on shifting responsibility to the market.

In synthesis, the thesis calls for a holistic approach that balances technical, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability, guided by clear definitions, flexible frameworks, and stakeholder engagement. It puts emphasis on mutual efforts towards realizing a sustainable, circular road sector adaptable to evolving global sustainability agendas. Through its enriched narrative, the thesis contributes to broader discussions on sustainability transitions, offering insights applicable across infrastructure development domains.