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Smart Highways in India

A Concept note on ecologically Sustainable Highways in India

Author: Ashwin C Shroff, CMD, Excel Industries Limited

If you were asked to picture a Smart Highway, rest assured, you would picture a Highway having high speed cars, automated toll collection booths, electronic surveillance systems and shining sign boards. Are you quite sure that having the above really makes a highway smart? Think again.

Quite surely, you must have stopped by one of the several food courts while driving on one of the expressways in India. Have you ever noticed the lack of sanitation there? Have you wondered what happens to all the food waste, human waste and recyclable waste generated at the food courts? Also, have you ever wondered the amount of pollution generated on the highways due the large number of vehicles plying on the highway and its long term repercussions?

By suitably designing these food court areas, one can really make the highways sustainable and hence smart. A smart highway in the real sense is the one which besides being appealing to high speed cars is also the one which is ecologically and economically viable.

Forever committed to the cause of sustainability, solid waste management and sanitation in the country, this concept note tries to bring about a futuristic yet simple and ecologically sustainable view to the Smart Highways of the country.

Every car plying on the highways stops at the food court area for one or more of the following reasons:
– To fuel up the car
– To relieve oneself by visiting the restrooms
– To fill oneself up by eating and drinking at the food courts
In the above process, one rarely thinks about the waste generated and what could be done to the waste? We suggest several easy to implement de-centralized solutions to the above issues that would go a long way in making the highways green and ecologically sustainable.

Organic food waste generated from the process of cooking and also as leftovers of food consumed at the food courts can be treated at source using a de-centralized composting or bio methanation plant. A food court on Mumbai-Pune expressway would generate over 100 tons of organic waste annually. This is ideal for either of the above two technologies to convert organic waste into bio-manure/compost and/or bio-energy.
Compost recovered from the Composting plant can either be fed to the farms in the vicinity for growing high quality organic produce or the food court area can itself be designed in a way as to have vertical farms to grow fresh green vegetables needed for cooking the food consumed in the food court.

Likewise, the biogas generated from the de-centralized bio- methanation plant can be converted into more value added product such as bio-CNG or ethanol. This can then be fed back to the fuel station at the exit to fuel the cars with clean fuel. Bio-CNG and Ethanol as fuel is getting increasing attention as source of clean & renewal source fuel and mandating blending or fuel switch to reduce carbon foot prints in several countries in the world. With a strain on crude oil resources across the world, inflationary & geo-political risk all countries including India will soon have to look at these alternate clean renewable sources of fuel.
From the toilets and kitchens at the exit, sewage is generated which can be easily treated using a de-centralized sewage treatment plant using easily available technologies. Only upon primary treatment, the treated water can be easily fed back for irrigation of the vertical farms at the food court as also the various trees along the highway.

Along the length of the highway, several locally favorable fruit trees can be planted. These trees serve the dual purpose of providing fresh produce as well as a larger goal of carbon sequestration against the immense pollution created by the vehicles plying constantly on the highway. Compost from the de-centralized composting plants and treated water from the de-centralized sewage treatment plants must be used to water these trees.

Just like there is organic food waste, there is also an equal or more amount of recyclable waste in the form of paper and plastic. This can be easily recycled and offer productive work / livelihood for micro-entrepreneurs as also provide framework for inclusion of local area people. At the source of generation, the segregated recyclable waste could be safely collected, crushed and baled into easily transportable material which can be recycled into more value added products at a recycling center. A recycling center can be developed along the highway which could cater to the recycling of all such waste coming from various pick up points along the length of the highway. Thus pollution impact of various waste streams is minimized as also it provide livelihood for unskilled / poor people from waste value chain.

By adopting these simple yet sustainable methods, the highways can be called smart in the true sense. These highways can thus be ecologically viable. The major tangible gains that can be demonstrated as below:
a. Reduction of cost and pollution in transporting food from long distances by growing high quality fresh produce at source in vertical farms
b. Reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emission by stopping the waste being sent to the land fill or waste flowing into nearby water bodies
c. Carbon sequestration by way of planting trees along the length of the highway

All stakeholders such as travelers traveling on the highway, infrastructure companies building the highways, national and international funding agencies financing the highway projects as well as policy makers across ministries stand to gain by this approach.

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