• An engineer's view of Queensland's Sustainable Planning Act

    Friday, July 31, 2015

    No matter what sort of solution an engineer is developing, be it water or structural, he or she must understand the environmental repercussions of those projects.

    Given the fact that humans are the dominant species on the planet, it's easy to forget that we're a part of a global ecological community. Like any living organism, our actions have an effect on our ecosystems.

    The SPA emphasises three ideals.

    In 2009, Queensland passed the Sustainable Planning Act (SPA), which serves as a framework under which developers and other parties can establish and execute ecologically-conscious projects. This article will discuss some of the larger points within the SPA and how they impact engineering.

    Understanding ecological sustainability 

    The SPA identifies ecological sustainability as a key project development consideration. According to law's fine print, the concept establishes a balance between three ideals:

    1. Protecting the integrity and operability of natural systems on a local, regional, State and greater level.
    2. Fostering economic development.
    3. Upholding the cultural, fiscal, physical and social prosperity of people and communities. 

    In regard to these values, engineers must determine how their solutions will impact not only the environment, but also economic opportunities and social development. What are the monetary implications of installing a berm? How will this bridge impact communal connectivity? These are just a few examples of the questions specialists must ask themselves. 

    An integrated approach

    The SPA provides a formula to structural engineers and other such specialists committed to developing ecologically sustainable solutions. The Act identifies this practice as the Integrated Development Assessment System (IDAS). 

    Applying environmental principles to engineering is becoming the standard way of doing business. Before construction begins, Engineers must determine how their solutions impact ecosystems.

    The IDAS is designed to consider legislative policies while supporting flexibility in case original plans need to be adjusted. As any experienced engineer knows, changes are bound to occur, so it's constructive to adhere to a system that allows experts to make adjustments when necessary.

    According to a guide created by the Queensland Government, IDAS possesses six traits:

    • Comprehensive: Considers approvals for all projects occurring in the state.
    • Scaleable: Applicable to both small and complex solutions.
    • Modular: Guides four phases inherently found in development initiatives.
    • Assuring: Assesses a solution's ability to deliver functions optimally.
    • Balanced: Ensures everything between community needs and legal obligations are adhered to.
    • Accountable: Forces participants and stakeholders to hold themselves responsible for any and all decisions made. 

    From the outside looking in, IDAS leaves no room for error. It favours thoroughness so that no specific items compromise the success and sustainability of a solution.

    The SPA leaves no room for error. Legislation or not, it delivers an effective set of rules that can help environmental engineers and other parties create solutions that do not waste the precious resources our earth has to offer. 

  • Planning for growth: Developing Queensland's infrastructure

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    Whenever a city's population expands, its infrastructure encounters greater stress. Some regions handle this pressure better than others.

    If traffic engineers develop roadways designed to handle projected expansion, communities will experience minimal disruption. Queensland officials are hoping they can achieve this feat in the near future.

    Queensland may have to accommodate 7.1 million people by 2036.

    Queensland's population set to grow 

    Recent figures from the Queensland Government Statistician's Office shows that the state's population rose by 70,540 people between June 2013 and June 2014, a 1.5 per cent growth rate. Currently, more than 4.7 million individuals call Queensland home. 

    Assuming medium rates of natural increase and migration remain consistent, Queensland will have to accommodate 7.1 million people by 2036, according to the Queensland Treasury. This means that Brisbane, the Gold Coast and other cities throughout the state must be prepared to support a greater number of workers and families. 

    Does the state have a plan? 

    Although projects have yet to enter the pipeline, the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning (DILGP) released a white paper detailing its intentions. By early 2016, it hopes to finalise a state infrastructure strategy that will: 

    • Encourage innovation among engineers, government contractors and the like
    • Describe specific public service needs and potential infrastructure investment options
    • Dictate sustainable funding plans for projects
    • Deliver information that allows public and private entities to better collaborate with one another

    Responding to demands and concerns 

    The DILGP recognised the interests of bodies such as the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and Public Infrastructure Productivity Commission. 

    The BCA called for thorough assessments that detailed projected land usage trends. In addition, the organisation expressed the need for public infrastructure development initiatives directly tied to strategic plans. From the BCA's perspective, these strategies should be scrutinised by third parties to determine their effectiveness and feasibility.

    Put simply: There's no room for wasted or ineffective investments. It's evident that specialists will need to develop well-researched, feasible civil engineering plans

    Project transportation investment

    Highways, urban public transport and city road expenses are expected to increase markedly over the next 16 years. The Australian Infrastructure Audit showed that government-funded transit and roadways' direct economic contribution will increase 138 per cent between 2011 and 2031, reaching $4.47 billion.

    As business relationships between Gold Coast and Brisbane intensify, Infrastructure Australia asserts that the number of passenger hours travelled (PHT) in a given day will rise. Currently, the Carindale to Brisbane Inner bus route experiences 1,850 PHT on a daily basis.

    These statistics shouldn't be cause for panic. Instead, developers must keep these insights in mind when creating infrastructure investment strategies. The future of Queensland's economy depends on it. 

  • Assessing a framework for sustainable multi-tenant buildings

    Friday, July 17, 2015

    Between 1990 and 2012, Queensland's carbon dioxide emissions output rose from 78.8 million tonnes to 134.5 million tonnes, according to the state government.

    Whether or not you believe climate change to be fact or fiction, there's no doubt that public authorities are developing policies geared toward curtailing this trend. Queensland's implementation of the 5-star energy code for multi-unit residential buildings is an example of such standards. 

    Although all new multi-residential dwellings must be designed according to the 5-star rating standard, structural engineers can leverage it as an assessment model. Doing so will help them identify ways to expand the standard, developing more eco-friendly multi-tenant housing. 

    The fiscal case for sustainable buildings

    Although developers may feel morally gratified by funding sustainable construction projects, they don't want to lose money after doing so. Like any similar initiative, the finished product must have a market price that does not exorbitantly exceed the mean or median cost.

    The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) released a white paper detailing the monetary implications associated with sustainable structures. After analysing eight buildings with Green Star energy ratings (the system used throughout Australia), the GBCA generated the following insights: 

    • All owners and/or managers believed their structures were resilient to future energy expenses and more stringent building legislation. 
    • Owners typically marketed their dwellings' sustainability to attract tenants. In a related matter, buildings with Green Star ratings "appear easier to sell." 
    • There is a strong correlation between long-term leases (i.e. 15- to 20- year agreements) and sustainable residential structures. 

    Queensland's definition and the 5-star rating system

    According to the Queensland Department of Housing and Public Works, a building's sustainability largely depends on its shell design - the walls, windows, floor and roof. For the most part, positioning and facade composition determine just how green a structure is.

    Passive design decisions, while promoting energy efficiency, can be integrated with little to no costs. Orienting living areas toward the north, decreasing the number of east- and west-facing windows and installing wider eaves or window awnings are all actions that foster sustainability.

    Identifying green materials isn't as simple as some may think. When engineering consultants consider the eco-friendliness of construction products, they assess the energy used to produce, and transport them. They also consider how easily materials can be recycled and the emissions caused by the manufacturing process.

    Sustainable building is a multifaceted endeavour. Between design principles and careful selection of materials, green development supports a more compatible future between humans and global ecosystems. 

  • How is Queensland preparing for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games?

    Friday, July 10, 2015

    A tradition that coincided with the coronation of King George the Fifth in 1911, The Commonwealth Games features competitions and exhibitions from boxers, swimmers and other athletes from throughout the Commonwealth of Nations.  

    In 2018, Gold Coast is scheduled to host the fabled event. Some people may be asking whether the city will make a viable host. Both city planners and civil engineers based in Queensland are doing all they can to prepare the area's infrastructure and sporting arenas.  

    What can Gold Coast expect  

    If last year's event in Glasgow, Scotland are any indication of what Gold Coast will encounter in 2018, the city certainly has its work cut out for it. According to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games website, the organisers sold approximately 1.2 million tickets.  

    Athletically, the Glasgow Games didn't leave sports spectators wanting. More than 100 Commonwealth Games records were set. In regard to attendance, the Rugby Sevens tournament attracted the largest number of people ever. Other notable figures are listed below:  

    • Approximately 12,000 spectators watched the flotilla of 250 boats
    • About 65,000 people were at the Glasgow Green Live Zone  
    • An estimated 30,000 supporters attended the marathon

    A tweet from one of last year's gold medal winners can be seen below:

    Costs and civil considerations  

    Preparing Gold Coast, as well as its sports facilities, for the Commonwealth Games requires a mix of technical insights and demographic behaviours. While traffic engineers may conduct parking studies, marketers could provide developers with insights into which facilities will accommodate the greatest number of attendees.  

    The Coomera Indoor Sports Centre and Queensland State Velodrome are two out of 18 buildings that will serve the purposes of the Commonwealth Games.  

    A fact sheet detailing the Velodrome's development states that approximately 31,000 cubic metres of spoil will be removed from the site and recycled during construction. When completed, the venue will deliver a 250-metre timber cycling track and a function room capable of accommodating up to 100 people, among other facilities.  

    The Coomera Indoor Sports Centre isn't going to leave anything to be desired, either. A $40 million-dollar endeavour, the building will feature eight mixed-use sports courts and a gymnastics arena. It will also provide 350 permanent seats and be capable of expanding to a capacity of 7,600 if necessary.  

    In summation, Queensland isn't putting these projects on the back burner. The state is taking constructive measures to accommodate the many attendees the Commonwealth games will likely attract. 

  • 3 questions from Queensland's water recycling guidelines

    Friday, July 03, 2015

    The completion of the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project marked a monumental time in South East Queensland's water engineering history. 

    A $2.5 billion project, the Queensland Department of State Development lauded it as the largest recycled water scheme ever built in Australia. The system is an impressive feat, capable of supplying up to 232 megalitres of purified, recycled water on a daily basis. 

    To fully appreciate the expertise and insights applied to this project, we'll answer three key questions engineers ask themselves when developing recycled water schemes: 

    1. What should be detailed in a recycled water management plan? 

    A recycled water management plan (RWMP) must detail the systems that produce and/or supply recycled water to a distribution network, according to Section 201 of the Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Act 2008. In addition, the RWMP must describe:

    • How the infrastructure will be maintained
    • Any possible hazards and dangerous events that could impact the recycled water's quality
    • The manner in which any risks will be addressed and resolved

    2. Does Queensland classify recycled water? 

    The Queensland Department of Energy and Water Supply (DEWS) assigns recycled water either A+, A, B, C or D classifications if the liquid is sourced from a utility's sewage system. The same categorisation also applies when a water provider uses sewage or effluent to produce recycled water.

    DEWS uses log reduction metrics (percentage of microorganisms eliminated or mollified via a certain process) to develop classifications. So, when a recycled water scheme's virus filtration system receives a '4-log' rating, it means the solution removed 99.99 per cent of viruses. 

    3. What classification must drinking water receive? 

    When recycled water is delivered for potable uses, the contents must meet the following minimum log reductions for indicator organisms and pathogens:

    • Bacteria (Salmonella, Escherichia colia, etc.) must register an 8-log valuation.
    • Viruses (Adenovirus, Hepatitis A and Coronavirus) must receive a 9.5-log rating.
    • Protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Naeglergia fowleri) requires an 8-log appraisal.
    • Helminths (parasites or worms) must receive an 8-log appraisal. 

    In this regard the A+, A, B, C and D categories do not apply, as the aforementioned valuations exceeded the standards highlighted in each of these classifications. 

    Given the effects of climate change, concerns regarding devastating droughts and other such issues, recycled water will likely become an integral part of Queensland's metropolitan infrastructures and rural communities. 

  • How the Bruce Highway project will improve Queensland's traffic

    Friday, June 26, 2015

    In 2012, the Bruce Highway Technical Advisory Group was put in charge of creating a 10 year 'Crisis Action Plan' to address the issues posed by Queensland's Bruce Highway.

    Upon consulting traffic engineers as to what could be done, the authority created an action plan that outlined the motorways problems and actionable solutions. 

    Why the Bruce Highway? 

    The Bruce Highway is approximately 1,700 kilometres long, and serves as Queensland's primary north-south transportation corridor, running from Cairns to Brisbane along the coast. Given that these, as well as the other cities along the Pacific Ocean are essential to the state economy, it's not surprising that authorities are giving so much attention to renovating the motorway.

    There's a reason why the Technical Advisory Group referred to the Bruce Highway as a crisis. Studies have identified the corridor as one of the most dangerous roads in Australia. More than 17 per cent of fatal road accidents occur on the Bruce Highway.

    Flooding is another major concern. Authorities have identified nine areas that, on average, close for longer than 48 hours every year due to ineffective water engineering solutions. An another six locations are shut down for more than five days because of the same issue. 

    On top of these concerns, both urban and rural traffic along the Bruce Highway is expected to increase in tandem with economic development. Congestion has worsened from Brisbane to Maryborough and other areas. 

    Some concepts to remember

    To ensure the Bruce Highway can accommodate more commuters and commercial trucks, traffic engineers assigned to the project must keep a few principles in mind: 

    • Average travel speed (ATS) is greatly impacted by the number of heavy-duty vehicles on the road. 
    • For the most part, the ATS is higher in median lane than it is in the shoulder lane, even when traffic density is the same between the two. 
    • It is often advisable to regard each lane separately when performing traffic studies, because lane position typically has the greatest effect on traffic performance.

    What's being done to fix the Bruce Highway? 

    To address flooding issues, engineers are drafting solutions that will dramatically decrease delays. The goal is to design embankments that can withstand peak flood events. 

    Extra lanes are scheduled to be constructed in key rural areas were only temporary relief is required. Two-lane portions near metropolitan areas will be upgraded to four-lane or six-lane stretches, depending on current congestion data. 

    The project is currently underway, and is scheduled to be completed by 2022. It's hoped that these additions will sustain future traffic trends. 

  • Analysing SEQ's need for disaster-resilient buildings

    Friday, June 19, 2015

    While structural engineers draw from fundamental principles when designing commercial facilities, they also adjust designs according to prospective locations.  

    Constructing a warehouse in Longreach, Queensland carries different implications than building a 20-storey office complex in downtown Brisbane. Of course, each structure has a different form and function - one supports traditional white collar operations while the other caters to logistics. 

    Yet, it's also necessary to address environmental disparities between Longreach and Brisbane. The latter is a coastal metropolis while the former is an outback township. In regard to building in Brisbane, what would structural engineers and developers need to be aware of?

    Natural disasters have cost Queensland more than $5.4 billion in recent years.

    Developing a resilient South East Queensland

    Why Brisbane? According to the South East Queensland (SEQ) Council of Mayors, SEQ is a rapidly growing region, and will house approximately one in six Australians within the next two decades. Given this estimate, demand for both commercial and residential property is increasing. 

    The Council released a document proposing a joint effort between itself and the Federal government to support infrastructure initiatives throughout the region. The first priority it highlighted was bolstering SEQ's ability to recover from and resist natural disasters. 

    According to the Council, natural disasters have cost Queensland more than $5.4 billion in recent years. These expenses are associated with the reinstatement of assets that have been impacted by such events. 

    What sort of natural disasters is SEQ up against? 

    Queensland Disaster Management conducted a state-wide risk assessment of natural disasters in 2012, collecting data from 1900 to 2011. 

    The analysis concluded that tropical cyclones and flooding were the two greatest natural threats to Queensland. Combined, these two hazards accounted for approximately 72 per cent of structural damage. Flooding has caused 50 per cent of Queensland's total building losses.

    These are all factors structural engineers working in SEQ are likely cognisant of these issues. The question is, how are they applying this knowledge when spearheading commercial construction projects? 

    How can structural engineers design cyclone-resistant buildings? Tropical cyclones pose a risk to SEQ.

    Preparing for cyclones and floods 

    Engineers take a few basic measures to ensure buildings are resistant to cyclones, many of which were detailed by the Development Workshop Foundation.

    For one thing, use a regular shape for the basic structure layout to reduce pressure concentration.

    Then, strengthen junctions to reinforce the building's bracin. 

    Ultimately, choosing a location that does not receive the full wind force is a good necessary measure to take.

    As for floods, if a building is going to be located in a vulnerable location, it's recommended that the lowest level be raised above anticipated flood levels. Some situations may warrant the construction of floodwalls, but these aren't always necessary.

    SEQ offers a lot of economic promise, but it can be detrimentally affected by disaster-related disruptions. Developing commercial real estate that are built for floods, cyclones and other events ensures that fiscal activity can progress uninterrupted. 

  • A succinct guide to developing industrial solar in Queensland

    Friday, June 12, 2015

    Constructing an industrial solar farm has a number of implications on Queensland's existing infrastructure. Integrating these energy assets into a complex network of civil solutions isn't as simple as plugging into the grid. 

    Careful analysis of civil systems by city planning experts reduces the chances of project hindrances occurring. Before construction commences, engineers must conduct several assessments to determine where solar fields can be positioned. 

    That being said, is Queensland primed for solar projects? 

    A bright summer day in Queensland produces 1,400 Watts W/m2.

    The state of solar in Queensland 

    In a May 15 statement, Minister for Energy and Water Supply Mark Bailey asserted the public authority's willingness to do whatever it can for developers expressing tangible interest in building commercial or industrial-grade solar projects.

    This statement comes at a time when investment in renewable technology remains quite meagre, despite the fact that a bright summer day in Queensland can produce around 1,400 Watts per square metre (W/m2), according to The University of Queensland. 

    What are the preliminary concerns? 

    The Queensland Department of Energy and Water Supply (DEWS) created a comprehensive guide to assist municipalities and project managers working to launch utility-scale solar farms. Many of the processes described within the DEWS' model could be conducted by a civil engineering consulting knowledgeable of Queensland's regions. 

    Speaking of location, this was the first item the DEWS recommended stakeholders analyse. A solar field should be constructed in an area where sunshine is consistently abundant and electricity distribution facilities readily accessible. 

    Engineering firms knowledgeable of local mandates can ensure solar projects are up to code. Assessing a solar field's feasibility is part of an engineer's job.

    At this point, the engineering team must create a connection enquiry based on mandates cited in Chapter 5 of the National Electricity Rules Version 71. Chapter 5 details connection requirements for "Registered Participants" looking to feed electricity into a transmission network.

    Development, planning and approval 

    Once the steps above are addressed, the project team can move forward with establishing a granular blueprint of how the endeavour will be executed.

    Again, legislation will have to be taken into account. For instance, if a solar field near Gold Coast is proposed, a team of Gold Coast-based engineers should address the city's litigious requirements. Consulting the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning is also a good measure to take.

    Final steps 

    The final two steps of a solar farm development initiative involve analysing revenue and data obligations and funding initiatives. Most of the processes inherent in these steps fall on financial experts, but the engineering team can provide assistance by:

    • Compounding expenses related to construction, installation and the expected output of the solar farm (once it's operational).
    • Connecting project managers with local investors interested in such ventures. 

    Overall, working with an engineering consultancy that knows the lay of the land streamlines the regulatory appraisal process. Specific knowledge regarding Queensland's energy portfolio certainly won't hurt, either. 

  • What can be done about South East Queensland's traffic congestion?

    Friday, June 05, 2015

    Winter's steady approach may have you thinking about nasal congestion. However, if you commute to Brisbane, Gold Coast or anywhere else around South East Queensland (SEQ), you're probably dwelling on a different kind of congestion.

    It's no secret that the region's transportation infrastructure isn't necessarily up to par. With a rising population and ill-equipped public transit system, Queensland officials are feeling the pressure to accommodate. 

    What does the average SEQ commute look like? 

    About 500,000 trips were taken throughout SEQ every day in 2012.

    To better understand SEQ's traffic management challenges, it's important to highlight the region's demographic trends. A study conducted by the Queensland Government Statistician's Office showed that as of June 30, 2013, SEQ's total population stood at 3.27 million. 

    Between 2012 and 2013, Brisbane grew by a little more than 20,000 people, while the Gold Coast increased by about 11,000 and Moreton Bay rose by approximately 8,500. According to the Queensland Government, an average 500,000 trips throughout SEQ were taken every day in 2012. 

    Providing insight into how this demographic change will impact the daily commute, The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland noted that Brisbane's traffic congestion will cost the state approximately $3 billion per year by 2020. These expenses will be induced by: 

    • A higher number of crashes and accidents
    • Greater fuel and labour needs
    • Lengthier travel times
    • Decreased travel reliability
    • Increased motor vehicle emissions

    Will public transit provide salvation? 

    Queensland authorities have recommended that simply constructing more freeways may seem like the easiest solution, but it that doesn't necessarily mean such measures are sustainable. Engineers are responsible for designing transit development projects that minimise commuter disruptions, and some are finding that implementing alternative solutions is often the best route to take. 

    For instance, experts at the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) presented alternative measures to easing traffic congestion and establishing a resilient transit system.

    One recommendation is to deploy a state-of-the-art ramp singling system called HERO along the Pacific Motorway and South East Freeway. Tests have demonstrated HERO's ability to enhance motorway travel speeds, dependability and efficiency. 

    Well-developed traffic management plans can mitigate some of Brisbane's congestion woes. How do you plan on getting into Brisbane?

    The rail option 

    Last year, the TMR blueprinted the Bus and Train (BaT) project. If completed, the initiative would increase the number of operational trains connecting commuters to Brisbane to 48 trains every hour. Additional benefits are listed below: 

    • Nine extra trains will travel each hour from Gold Coast to Brisbane in peak morning commuter hours. 
    • A bus or train station will be less than a 10-minute walk from nearly anywhere in the CBD.
    • Bus capacity will double from the north and south into the CBD. 

    Basically, the idea is to attract commuters using cars to use public transit, thus reducing congestion. It's a project that's stirring quite a bit of excitement, and it's interesting to think about the impact the BaT project will have. 

  • How can stormwater prepare Queensland for the next drought? - part two

    Friday, May 22, 2015

    While a large part of Queensland (approximately 80 per cent) is contending with a severe drought, the southeast region has experienced heavy rainfall that caused flooding in many townships. 

    There's a certain criteria stormwater harvesting systems must adhere to.

    This poses a question of whether engineers knowledgeable of water management can find a way to reroute southeast Queensland's storm water to the state's drought-affected areas. On a practical level, such a concept is incredibly ambitious, but is it viable? 

    Assessing Brisbane's outline 

    The Brisbane City Council developed a plan for water engineers to apply when drafting stormwater harvesting plans. The purpose of the outline is to help council members and other officials deduce whether their infrastructure could feasibly support such systems. 

    Before detailing the steps necessary to assessing a proposed stormwater harvesting solution's feasibility, Brisbane named several outcomes that should be realised as a result of their implementation:

    • Protects public health and safety
    • Provides an alternative water source
    • Decreases the effects of stormwater pollutants
    • Supports the natural water cycle through sustaining environmental flows
    • Alleviates flood impact

    Once the purpose of stormwater harvesting systems are understood, cities can determine if installation is a reasonable endeavour. 

    Analysing the existing infrastructure  

    The Brisbane plan asserted that the feasibility of a stormwater harvesting solution is largely based on how much heavy rainfall a particular area receives on a consistent basis. Implementing a complex irrigation and distribution system may not be economically sustainable if infrequent or sporadic storms are the norm. 

    Can runoff be harnessed to assist drought-affected communities?How can cities harness the power of stormwater?

    Not surprisingly, Brisbane's suitability test starts with assessing slope and drainage, filtration and discharge rates, land availability and vegetation. For example, it's preferred that the slope of the application site should be less than 15 degrees. In addition, ground contents (clay, sand and ledge) will impact natural water flow. 

    From there, a water balance calculation can be made. This consists of identifying regular water supply and dividing it over demand. 

    What are the risks? 

    The challenge with managing stormwater is that it usually contains pesticides, hydrocarbons and other substances that compromise the cleanliness of the resource. For example, poorly-designed systems can cause sewage to mix with runoff.

    A study conducted by The University of Queensland's Advanced Water Management Centre aggregated 23 samples from six urban stormwater harvesting systems throughout Australia. Human adenovirus was found in 91 per cent of the specimens. 

    Is it feasible? 

    Filtering and distributing stormwater to drought-affected areas isn't an easy prospect. Some experts would stray away such a project.

    What can be done to make these initiatives feasible? Education and innovation. Working with research-focussed engineers can make for progressive projects that improve the livelihoods of Queensland's residents.