Airports go for green with eco-friendly efforts

The more progressive airports are eagerly taking on other experimental and innovative green projects. Some projects, such as switching to more efficient light bulbs, require little or no investment. Others — such as efficient HVAC systems and installing electrification systems at gates — are costly projects that are funded with their own operations budgets, government grants or as part of new construction costs.

Here's a closer look at some:

Alternative energy.

Some airports have large plots of land that they are devoting to experiment with alternative energy. Denver International and Fresno Yosemite recently installed solar panels in their backyards in hopes of generating enough energy to save on their electricity bills.

In Denver's case, it's 9,200 panels, each equipped with sensors and measuring 3 feet by 5 feet. Each rotates on an axis as it follows the sun. The panels will generate about 3 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, the equivalent of about half the energy used to run the airport's people-mover rail system, says Matt Cheney, CEO of MMA Renewable Ventures, which owns and operates the panels.

The airport didn't have to chip in for the $15 million cost, but its land contribution entitled it to energy credits with a local utility company.

Fresno Yosemite's 11,700 solar panels, installed in July, could provide up to 40% of the airport facilities' daily electrical needs, the airport says.

Boston officials' initial plans to experiment with wind power were stymied by the difficulty finding turbines that were small enough to fit on its lots, Sleiman says. It eventually turned to Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment, which has been installing rooftop turbines on commercial buildings and was eager to deploy them at a large airport.

Since introducing its product at Logan, AeroVironment has received expressions of interest from other large airports, Gitlin says.

Recycling.

Some green measures require little capital investment and are aimed more at changing business practices. Seattle-Tacoma, the home airport for Starbucks' headquarters, requires all coffee grounds served by concessions, about 143 tons a year, to be recycled and trucked to a local facility for composting. "None of us imagined that it'd be of this magnitude," says Elizabeth Leavitt, the airport's director of environmental programs.

The airport also will install garbage and recycling compactors later in the fall and will begin weighing trash and charging concessionaires by the pound for removal. The airport will not charge for hauling recycled waste.

Denver, which will begin a composting trial in January for biodegradable wastes, already has 22 streams of trash collection and recycling. Last year, it collected more than 104,000 pounds of cooking oil that was reused for biodiesel fuel and manufacturing pet foods.

Denver has also found a way to reuse its bountiful snow and de-icing fluid used on aircraft during harsh winter conditions. The airport collected about 70% of the 1.8 million gallons of de-icing fluids used last year and mixed some of it with melted snow. The mixed fluid, which is piped to an on-site collection pond, is then reused as antifreeze or flushing fluids in toilets.

Minneapolis-St. Paul has spent $150 million in storm water management and de-icing-fluid recycling, including five large de-icing pads that are about 15 acres each.

Cleaner vehicles.

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