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Global warming potential of pavements

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Pavements comprise an essential and vast infrastructure system supporting our transportation network, yet their impact on the environment is largely unquantified. Previous life-cycle assessments have only included a limited number of the applicable life-cycle components in their analysis. This research expands the current view to include eight different components: materials extraction and production, transportation, onsite equipment, traffic delay, carbonation, lighting, albedo, and rolling resistance. Using global warming potential as the environmental indicator, ranges of potential impact for each component are calculated and compared based on the information uncovered in the existing research. The relative impacts between components are found to be orders of magnitude different in some cases. Context-related factors, such as traffic level and location, are also important elements affecting the impacts of a given component. A strategic method for lowering the global warming potential of a pavement is developed based on the concept that environmental performance is improved most effectively by focusing on components with high impact potentials. This system takes advantage of the fact that small changes in high-impact components will have more effect than large changes in low-impact components.

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