Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:42:43 AM CST

Top Stories

Courtesy of Mead & Hunt, Inc.

The new terminal at Outagamie County Regional Airport in Appleton, Wis. could become the nation's first "net zero" airport in July.

Net zero energy plans at airports ready for takeoff

by Alan Yu
Nov 08, 2012

Bees, goats and worms won’t have to go through security as they become part of the vanguard in helping airports produce as much energy as they consume.

Airport executives, aviation officials and architects gathered in Chicago this Tuesday to talk about ways to make airports “net zero.” A net zero airport would offset any power it buys by generating more from on-site facilities such as solar panels.

At the Airports Going Green Conference at the Westin River North this Tuesday, they focused on bees, goats and worms in the formula for going “net zero,” which has not been achieved in the U.S. and probably will not be until far in the future.

“I don’t think net zero is ever going to be completely achievable. All airports can do is cut down the impact as much as possible,” said Jonathan Strauss, one of the panelists and a lead consultant at Constellation, an energy supplier. “In terms of power use, there are no net zero airports in the U.S.”

However, airport managers and tenants can cut costs and promote sustainability by trying to get as close to net zero as possible. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago features the largest green roof of plants at the world’s airports, as well as an award-winning honeybee program that employs ex-offenders to manage 50 airport beehives. On Wednesday, conference attendees toured O’Hare’s green roof, indoor herb garden and bee operations. Herbs are sold to airport restaurants and travelers can buy the surplus as well as the honey.

Back at River North, presenters from FedEx and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C. showcased large-scale recycling, energy and fuel efficiency programs to an audience of government officials, airport managers, architects and other members of the aviation industry.

Moderator Ryan Spicer, enterprise sustainability programs manager at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, began the session with the animals that assist airports in achieving their sustainability goals.

“Chicago has bees, Atlanta has goats, Charlotte has something else,” he said.

O’Hare is also planning on a herd of goats that can feast on the weeds. Then Bob Lucas, housekeeping manager at Charlotte Douglas International Airport introduced the audience to the 1.5 million worms the airport employs to eat through 750 pounds of composted organic matter a day to produce fertilizer. The worms live in a giant drum filled with food and paper products, which is part of a $1 million recycling center that begun operating last August.

The airport began its large-scale recycling efforts after passengers questioned why it was not recycling more of its waste, Lucas said. He investigated, and found 70 percent of the airport’s waste can be recycled, such as the 15 to 20 cups airlines prepare for each passenger, and the cartons containing the 160 gallons of milk Starbucks uses everyday. The initial cost of the program was high, and the revenue depends on the current price of recycled products, but the airport has been saving $300,000 annually.

“It’s a game that you’re kind of playing with the markets, but it’s definitely less to operate a recycling facility than it was eight years ago,” Lucas said.

Although FedEx does not use animals in its sustainability efforts, the company has cut costs considerably by saving energy and improving fuel efficiency, said senior project management specialist Kit Crighton-Smith. For example, by retrofitting all shipping facilities with energy efficient lights, FedEx has reduced energy consumption at those sites by 93 percent in 2011. The savings add up since the facilities stay lit 24/7. 

Despite the high initial cost for bulb and equipment upgrades, Crighton-Smith pointed out companies can often gain tax benefits or rebates from local or federal governments, and regain the cost of their investments in as little as six months.

Companies should also seek advice from employees on how to save energy. For example, FedEx installed 757 winglets, or upward-pointing wingtips that reduce drag, on its aircraft in 2011, saving 40.5 million gallons of fuel that year.

“A pilot came up with that. It’s just not an idea that everybody has right away,” Crighton-Smith said. “As a tenant, net zero is a long way off, but there are reporting methods and ways to quantify what we are doing to get close.”

The airport that is getting closest to net zero may be Outagamie County Regional Airport in Appleton, Wis., 200 miles north of Chicago. The 8,000 square foot has just begun construction on the nation’s first planned net zero airport terminal. The terminal will replace a 50-year-old existing building, and the $3.5 million construction should be complete by July, said Matt Dubbe, an architect who worked on the design.

Most of the technology required to achieve net zero already exists; the problem is implementing it all at once, Dubbe said.

“We didn’t implement unproven Star Wars-era technology. This is all pretty traditional: thick building exterior envelope, high insulation, take advantage of the sun’s path during the day [for heat and lighting],” Dubbe said. “These are some pretty basic things and technologies that have been around for 30 years.”

The new terminal should be able to replenish 85 to 90 percent of its energy consumption as soon as construction is complete, said airport director Marty Lenss. The Federal Aviation Administration and the Wisconsin State Bureau of Aeronautics funded the project, intending it to serve as a model for other airports nationwide, Lenss said.

Gail Staba, senior program officer at the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Science said she is impressed at Chicago’s efforts to achieve sustainability and learn from other airports.

“It’s been two mayors, and then a series of people that have gone on to actually implement these things,” Staba said. “They’re willing to look to the rest of the airports who are also doing things to say what works for our situation.”