Scaling up InfraTech for sustainable roads in emerging markets
Roads are essential ‘movers’ of both people and economies. In emerging markets, where road networks are typically less developed, roads garner a significant portion of public investment (2.4% GDP in 2019), and this investment is a go-to lever for economic and social development.
But, the construction, operation, and maintenance of roads is also one of the highest emitters of CO2 globally. Road transport is responsible for around 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And, more than 100,000 people are killed and injured every day on the world’s roads, at a systemic cost of USD2.2 trillion every year and an untold human cost.
Innovative approaches – like InfraTech – can help reduce the environmental impacts of roads and improve road safety by improving the quality, cost-effectiveness, and affordability of road construction, operation, and maintenance.
To act on this opportunity, the GI Hub built a collaboration of eight multilateral development banks (MDBs) to deliver a first-of-its-kind, pilot global InfraTech program. The program partners were the African Development Bank (AfDB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF), Inter-American Development Bank (IaDB), Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and the World Bank.
Through more than 10 months of collaboration, the GI Hub and the MDB partners created a program that is a systematic and replicable approach to getting more InfraTech solutions adopted to improve the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of roads in emerging markets.
Step 1: Frame the challenge
The GI Hub’s research into pathways for sustainable infrastructure shows that scaling up the adoption of InfraTech is a long-term strategic priority for G20 economies over the coming decade. Technology is an amplifier of transformation that can be used across all infrastructure sectors to more quickly transition to net-zero and realise Sustainable Development Goals.
However, the adoption of InfraTech is challenged by systemic blockers that are primarily related to financing and perceived risk. As a result, many solutions are applied only on an ad-hoc or project-by-project basis (e.g. as a result of unsolicited proposals), rather than systematically through the development of national or international infrastructure programs.
As the GI Hub pooled knowledge and experience with transport and infrastructure finance experts from MDBs, we collectively determined how to navigate and remove these systemic blockers and create a path for more InfraTech solutions to be deployed on road projects at scale.
Step 2: Identify priority ways in which roads in emerging markets need to be more sustainable
Given their close work with governments and their insights into regional and local capacity, the MDBs had expert knowledge of how roads need to be transformed in their regions. The GI Hub worked with the MDBs to capture these needs and develop a matrix that allowed these to be prioritised. The result is a list of five global priorities for making roads more sustainable in emerging markets. These are:
- Mitigate operational and embodied emissions during design, construction, and operation
- Prevent critical asset failures by enabling more affordable road maintenance
- Minimise the loss of human lives by improving road safety
- Ensure roads continue to operate during disasters and extreme weather events by improving road resilience
- Help prioritise CO2 emission mitigation by more accurately measuring and analysing emissions.
Step 3: Source quality InfraTech solutions
Leveraging the InfraTech ecosystem of interested individuals, groups, public sector entities, and private companies that we have developed through our five-year initiative on InfraTech, the GI Hub launched a global call for submissions for technologies. The call invited InfraTech companies to submit their InfraTech solutions for sustainable roads in emerging markets, which responded to the global priorities outlined above.
The call for submissions received a resounding response, with submissions received from 42 InfraTech companies in 24 countries. Of these, 27 met the mandatory criteria and 22 were shortlisted for further assessment.
Step 4: Identify solutions best positioned to make roads more sustainable
To further assess the shortlisted solutions, we created a prioritisation framework that enabled the GI Hub and each MDB to assess the solutions using a common taxonomy for the solutions and their potential impacts. The framework mapped the solutions to the five priorities listed above and to seven technology themes:
- AI-enabled decision support tools
- Digital platforms and information and communications technology (ICT)
- Asset monitoring
- Advanced materials
- Robotics and automation
- Augmented reality/virtual reality/wearables
- Physical structures.
This mapping enabled the InfraTech solutions to be assessed on the basis of both the relevance of the solution (e.g. how well it responded to the priorities) and the applicability of the solution (e.g. how readily it could be applied, based on regional conditions and capacity). The MDBs were able to prioritise combinations of relevance and applicability that best met the need in their regions. These data were then combined with indicators of the likelihood that a technology would and could be adopted across the regions. These indicators included things like the number of potential road projects, the value of these projects, and the likelihood that any InfraTech would be adopted in these projects.
Using this data, the group progressed these InfraTech solution areas:
- Advanced materials for decarbonisation and cleaner air
- AI-enabled decision support tools for smarter asset management
- Advanced materials for increased climate resilience.
Step 5: Select the top InfraTech solutions
The GI Hub conducted additional assessments of InfraTech solutions that were operating in the three areas listed above, including interviews and other assessment. Based on the quantifiable impact of the solutions, their track records, and their readiness to deploy in emerging markets, we selected five top InfraTech solutions:
- COLPISTE: An affordable soil stabilisation solution that, when applied to existing tracks in rural areas, creates a consistent and stable surface on which a thinner layer of asphalt can be applied to create all-weather, reliable, paved rural roads
- EyeRADAR: A cost-effective solution that uses satellite radar and AI to enable scalable monitoring of slope stability in near real-time, making it possible to detect slope instability before it results in catastrophic failure
- Durophalt and Durophalt-E: Cost-effective, low-carbon, and durable road maintenance solutions that replace traditional asphalt repair processes, reducing emissions and prolonging road lifespans
- TRL: An efficient solution for assessing the condition of unpaved roads using high-resolution optical satellite images that are processed using AI to categorise and enable roads to be prioritised for further inspection or treatment
- IrisGO: An AI-enabled solution that facilitates smarter condition monitoring and proactive decisionmaking by automating data gathering and analysis of road assets and defects in real time.
Step 6: Present the InfraTech solutions to MDBs
The top five solutions were presented to the MDBs, allowing the MDBs to ask questions and further assess the suitability of the solutions for roads in their regions. This session was hugely successful, leading to follow-up requests from the MDBs with the top five solutions, including presentations to the transport departments and member country representatives of several MDBs. These follow-up activities make more MDB teams aware of the solutions and enable knowledge sharing between the InfraTech companies and the MDBs.
“This is the type of technology that we’re looking for [for] our Sustainable Road Maintenance Program in Africa” – Marco Yamaguchi, African Development Bank
We also provided information about the other 22 shortlisted companies to the MDB partners, helping them meet an urgent need for a database of high-quality, scalable InfraTech solutions for emerging markets. In the coming months, case studies for these shortlisted companies will be featured in our InfraTech Knowledge Hub.
Step 7: Extend the support to national road programs
Following the success of this pilot program, the GI Hub is now working directly with each of the eight MDB partners to create national InfraTech-enabled infrastructure programs and project pipelines within their member countries. Our objective is to leverage the benefits of adopting InfraTech to unlock sustainable finance for traditionally non-viable or non-bankable infrastructure programs and pipelines.
Stay tuned for details and more data
Next month, we will be publishing an article diving into the data and lessons we learned from this collaboration with the MDBs. If you are interested in understanding more about the pipeline of opportunities for technology solutions for sustainable roads in emerging markets, the readiness of technologies, and more, make sure you are subscribed to our newsletter so you don’t miss this.
To learn more about advancing the InfraTech agenda, explore our G20 Blueprint for Scaling Up InfraTech Financing and Development.
To discuss future Call for Submissions partnership opportunities, please contact us.
This is a GI Hub estimate based on our Infrastructure Outlook and data from The World Bank, IMF, OECD-ITF, IEA, WHO, OECD, ITU, CAICT, and others. Investment in roads in high-income countries is about 0.6% of GDP.