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Sustainability is not a chore. Done correctly, it can save millions for airports and reduce their carbon footprints.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is hoping to become a global model for a modern-day green airport.

Through continual search to implement environmentally sustainable measures and inching closer to a net-zero carbon footprint goal by 2030, the airport looks to realize $45 million in savings and cost avoidance over 15 years, said Robert Horton, the airport’s vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability.

The path to sustainability for one of the nation’s biggest airports, which sits on 18,000 acres, came about 20 years ago with the discovery by the Environmental Protection Agency that the North Texas region and the airport’s air quality were unhealthy, Horton said. And as the airport began finding ways to reduce emissions, its savings increased.

“Over the period when we were reducing emissions, we noticed that a lot of the strategies that we employed not only reduced our emissions, but reduced our costs,” said Horton. “For example, things like consolidating our car rental center that reduce the miles driven by our buses by over almost 60 percent. Or installing a thermal storage system for our central plant, which manages the heating and cooling of our terminals.”

DFW Environmental fleet

Dallas-Fort Worth’s fleet of environmental friendly shuttles. Photo Courtesy of DFW Airport

For little to no cost, the thermal storage system uses waste energy to supercool liquid during the night and circulates that liquid during the day to cool down the terminal, Horton said. This helps the airport operate off the grid and get paid for it.

More than 50 percent of the airport’s savings are from cost avoidance alone. After seeing its waste costs to landfills double over the last five years. Dallas-Fort Worth implemented a construction-waste management program that Horton said is helping save money and remove waste from landfills.

“If you think about the runway projects that we did, there’s concrete. Five-foot thick materials that you have to remove to replace the runway, and all of those materials, we found ways to recycle it and prevent it from going to landfill,” said Horton. “What that added up to is $25 million in avoided cost for finding ways to reuse more than 560,000 tons of construction waste.”

The airport also is also implementing a zero-waste program that will show the benefits of removing valuable content from waste streams, Horton said. Part of that includes a new program segregating the 30-40 percent of food waste the airport generates, sending it to organic farms for compost or animal food. Dallas-Fort Worth then buys renewable natural gas made from the organic waste at landfills to operate the airport buses.

Additionally, Dallas-Fort Worth is poised to use less energy and increase savings at this month’s opening of the Terminal D extensions, which are outfitted with dynamic glass, a type of glass that tints with the sun’s rays in a way similar to transitional eyeglasses. The use of dynamic glass in Terminal A has benefited the Twisted Root restaurant in that terminal, Horton said.

“Before we installed the glass in that restaurant, they could not get customers to sit in the bar area, and if you can’t get customers sitting at your bar, your bar sales are not really performing the way they should. But as soon as we put the glass in there, the bar was full,” Horton said.

With more than 70 percent of the airport’s footprint in electricity purchase, DFW has been able to shift to renewable energy forever with the purchase of 100 percent wind energy, that significantly lowered the costs the airport’s been paying for the first time in 30 years, Horton said.

Horton said the difference between carbon neutrality and net zero carbon right now is that the airport is allowed to purchase offsets. To offset future negative impacts, the airport will have to actually take action on removing the excess carbon from the atmosphere without purchasing offsets. Dallas-Fort Worth is committing to achieving net zero by 2030, which is 20 years ahead of the Paris agreement of 2050, he said.

As part of that, Dallas-Fort Worth has many sustainability partnerships, including one with American Airlines to purchase electricity collectively while improving the airline’s footprint.

Dallas-Fort Worth is the launch airport in North America for Airport Council International’s (ACI) 4 plus rating and the first airport in the continent to reach carbon neutrality, said Melinda Pagliarello, director of environmental affairs for the airport trade group.

If an airport wants to improve, nearly 90 percent of their scope comes from electricity and there are things they can do within their envelopes to attain energy efficiency, said Pagliarello.

Implementing some of those steps will reduce carbon dioxide, and in some green projects, there’s a possibility of getting a quick return on investment by saving a significant amount of money on the annual operating cost, she said.

Dallas isn’t alone in focusing on the environment. In Maine, Portland International Jetport has been able to save $100,000 annually in heating oil and electricity expenses by installing solar and geothermal power, said Paul Bradbury, the airport’s director.

Portland, Maine airport deicing

A plane receives deicing produced with reclaimed aircraft deicing fluid at Portland International Jetport. Photo Courtesy of Portland International Jetport.

The airport, in a cold climate, also saves a substantial amount by producing all of its deicing fluid itself with reclaimed aircraft fluid, Bradbury said.

And a few hundred miles south of Portland, Newark Liberty International Airport also is doing its part to become more green. The airport has a fleet of 12  electric shuttle buses and also has a concrete recycling program.

“As part of the ongoing construction for the new terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport, over 30,820 tons of asphalt, 101,511 tons of concrete, and 61,597 tons of soil have already been recycled for the construction of the new terminal, Bridge N60 Frontage Road Bridge and Pedestrian Bridge, connecting pedestrians to the new terminal’s departures level,” said Newark spokesperson Abigail Goldring. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Dallas-Fort Worth airport realized $45 million in savings last year because of its sustainability efforts. The goal is to realize that savings over 15 years, including a one-time, one-year $25 million cost avoidance from construction materials.


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Tags: airports, climate change, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, sustainability

Photo credit: Dallas Fort Worth airport saves energy with Dynamic Glass DFW Airport / DFW Airport

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