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5 ambitious infrastructure projects that are reimagining how we live and work

When it comes to creating the buildings and power systems of the future, it pays to think big.

A temperamental climate is stress-testing already strained infrastructure. In Canada alone, years of underinvestment in our roads, bridges and power stations have left us facing a $150-billion bill to bring them up to scratch. In the meantime, they’re at greater risk of damage during extreme weather events. “Suddenly, we’re starting to find that they no longer work the way we want them to or the way we expect them to,” says Deb Chachra, author of How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape Our World. “They’re built for a climate that doesn’t exist. The idea that we can take our infrastructure for granted is changing, because we can no longer take the landscape in which it is embedded for granted.”

Much of the work involves replacing or upgrading existing facilities to be more resilient to climate change. But the need for new infrastructure is also creating huge opportunities for innovators to push the boundaries of modern engineering and attempt construction feats that are — literally and metaphorically — groundbreaking.

Here are five of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the world, which are reimagining how we live, generate energy and get around.


A (very) large carbon capture and storage network

A first-of-its-kind carbon capture initiative, the Longship Project in Norway aims to reduce emissions from heavy industries unable to transition to alternative fuels or electricity by collecting carbon dioxide and storing it under the ocean. Carbon dioxide will be captured at two sites — a cement factory and a waste-to-energy plant — and then injected into the seabed in the North Sea. Each site is expected to trap around 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
Where it’s at: The Norwegian government committed $2.3 billion to the project in 2020. The carbon capture plants, transport vessels, injection pipeline and wells are now under construction and plan to be operational by 2025.
Price tag: $3.5 billion

Cool fact: The captured carbon dioxide will be transported by ship — hence the Viking-inspired name — before being injected into a saline aquifer 2,600 metres below the seabed.


A carbon-neutral geothermal lagoon

Currently in the planning stages in four locations around Quebec, geoLAGON aims to create next-generation vacation spots. These open-aired oases will maintain a balmy temperature of 38 degrees Celsius — made possible by an energy system that primarily relies on solar and shallow geothermal energy. With eco-chalets that capture solar energy to help power heat pumps in the complex, these self-sustaining villages are designed to be carbon neutral.

Price tag: The village near Charlevoix is projected to cost $250 million, while the others could be as much as $500 million each.

Where it’s at: The developer is in talks with four municipalities.

Cool fact: The geoLAGON plans to use rainwater and recycle shower water, creating a self-contained loop system.


A triple threat electricity infrastructure project

Engineers are eyeing the waters around Australia for the world’s largest renewable energy project. Called AAPowerLink, the ambitious scheme plans to export electricity generated from solar and wind farms in Australia to Indonesia and Singapore via an undersea transmission cable spanning a whopping 4,300 kilometres.

Price tag: More than $30 billion

Where it’s at: Construction was expected to begin in 2024, but the project stalled due to conflict between lead investors. Work has since resumed under new ownership. It’s currently trying to secure a license from the Indonesian government to lay cable through its territorial waters.

Cool fact:  If it becomes a reality, AAPowerLink could fulfill roughly 15 percent of Singapore’s energy requirements.


A geodesic dome turning carbon dioxide into stone

CarbFix, a carbon capture and storage technology company, is planning an unusual structure at the Hellisheiði Power Station in Iceland: a geodesic dome. The aim? To shield a geothermal wellhead at the power plant to help facilitate the permanent storage of carbon dioxide. Collected gas will be piped in from the power plant and mixed with water before being injected into the basalt rock below. The latest project, called Silverstone, involves building a larger and more powerful unit within the power plant.

Price tag: Estimated to cost $5.73 million

Where it’s at: Phase one of the project has been operating since 2014, capturing roughly 30 percent  of the plant’s carbon dioxide. Phase two — Silverstone — will be fully operational by 2025, positioning Hellisheiði as the world’s first geothermal power plant with a near-zero carbon footprint.
Cool fact: Carbon dioxide reacts with basalt rock, forming a mineral, which stores it safely and permanently.


A magnetic super-speed railway from Baltimore to D.C.

A super-fast train called SCMAGLEV (short for Superconducting Maglev Project) is being built between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., using magnetic power to travel at speeds more than 480 kilometres per hour. The high-tech rail system requires a special track (rather than ride on the rails, maglev trains hover above the track) and additional facilities. The planned route will be the first segment of the greater Northeast Maglev project, which aims to add additional stops in the Northeastern United States.

Price tag: $13.8-$16.8 billion

Where it’s at: The project is undergoing environmental assessments.

Cool fact: Once (and if) completed, the line will transport passengers from Baltimore to Washington in just 15 minutes.

Meanwhile in Canada…: Toronto company TransPod is working on making its hyperloop technology a reality in Alberta. Its hyperloop project plans to shorten the commute between Calgary and Edmonton with its a unique FluxJet system that would reach speeds of 1,000 kilometre per hour. With secured funding of $550 million and plans for more, the company is preparing to start construction of a 10-kilometre test track in Edmonton in 2024.

What will it take to build better and more sustainable systems? Listen to the conversation with Deb Chachra on the latest episode of the MaRS podcast Solve for X: Innovations to Change the World.

Main image credit: Longship Project, Northern Lights, Secondary image credit: geoLAGON

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