Sustainable Airport Projects Are Taking Off Right and Left

Solar power, geothermal cooling and runway changes yield energy and cost reductions.

Airports around the country are building new terminals or upgrading existing ones to improve the sustainability of their operations. That’s good news for the environment, since the transportation industry accounted for 27 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, second only to electricity production, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

“Green” airport projects are not especially new. Currently, there are airport projects registered and certified LEED in nearly all 50 U.S. states according to USGBC.Facilities such as Los Angeles International Airport, whose newest terminal received LEED Gold certification in 2015, and Denver International Airport feature solar farms, low-E glass, low flow water fixtures, plug-in power at gates and the use of recycled materials. 

Here are three more-recent eco-friendly airport initiatives.

Salt Lake City International Airport

SLC has set a goal of ensuring that all new buildings and major renovations of 10,000 square feet or more are at least LEED-silver certified. In addition, the mayor of Salt Lake City, Ralph Becker, has challenged the terminal’s project team to create the nation’s first net-zero energy airport, which means it would generate at least as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.

While the airport hasn’t said it can achieve that goal, its current $3 billion-plus renovation, which will replace five concourses with two new linear concourses, has many sustainable features. They include:

  • Radiant heating systems in the gate hold and plaza areas
  • An automated system that will slow escalators and moving walks to 25 percent of full speed when not in use
  • Reduction of building glazing in some areas from 46 percent to 30 percent to keep more cooled air from escaping
  • Pre-conditioned air for aircraft sitting at the gate, which saves fuel by allowing the plane’s power units to be turned off

A sustainability management team is working with the airport to identify more opportunities for making green changes. The first phase of SLC Airport’s renovations should be completed by 2020, with the entire project wrapped up by 2024.

Nashville International Airport

In 2016, Nashville International Airport began using a quarry lake adjacent to its property as a geothermal resource for cooling the airport. The closed loop system uses lake plate heat exchangers, saving the airport more than $430,000 in electricity costs and reducing its yearly potable water consumption by more than 30 million gallons.

In January 2017, the airport broke ground on a billion-dollar terminal area parking garage that will include a rooftop canopy to capture up to 20,000 gallons of rainwater for irrigation purposes, a green screen vegetation wall on the outside of the building and rooftop solar panels to help power parking and airport operations. The new garage should open in late 2018.

Portland International Jetport

Not all the sustainable changes happening at airports are going on in terminals. Portland International Jetport plans to build several new taxiways and relocate an existing taxiway. The changes will not only improve safety by reducing runway crossings but will also shorten the time that aircraft are taxiing or idling, reducing fuel burn and carbon emissions.

Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.

Photo Credit: Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority

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