Towards Carbon free Airports?

For years, many airports have been committed to becoming carbon neutral transportation hubs. Much of the progress made so far can be attributed to technological innovations.

Aéroport décarbonisation

For sure, airports and their constant activity play a major role in environmental degradation: “The effects of climate change are becoming more and more tangible for everyone, including airports”, notes Marina Bylinsky, who is in charge of the carbon neutral certification system established by the International Airports Council. In this context, the consultancy Carbone 4 recently assessed a list of issues that pose very serious threats, such as the deterioration of landing strips, excessive energy consumption, cancelled flights, etc.

While energy efficiency in the air transportation industry may have consistently improved over the last fifteen years, the heavy increase in traffic means that carbon emissions are still on the rise. While waiting for things in the air to improve, activities on the ground are evolving rapidly. On its own, ground activity counts for 5% of the sector’s emissions, which is a significant amount in terms of volume.


44 carbon neutral airports on the planet

For the last nine years, the certification program that was put in place by the Airports Council International has encouraged all airports to implement emission reduction policies. And their approach is working: 44 airports, of which 35 are in Europe, are carbon neutral (generally speaking, this means very few emissions, and the few that are generated are counterbalanced by other carbon-positive projects), and 43% off all air traffic passes through airports that have committed to becoming carbon free.

There are many different ways to initiate carbon free policies and all require investments, sometimes involving major sums, but that are quickly recuperated for the most part, largely through energy efficiencies. This is because the sources of carbon emissions in airports are numerous: electricity, obviously, especially for lighting, heating/air conditioning, but also activities directly (vehicles, service machines and other equipment, water and waste management, etc.) or indirectly related to transportation (ground transportation, plane takeoff and landing activities, but also transportation for staff and passengers in and around the airports).


Renewable energy on-site generated

The tools available for creating carbon free airports are just as abundant. Quite obviously, technology (and its continually more accessible costs) is at the heart of the matter, and technology related to carbon management is evolving very rapidly. As Marina Bylinsky recently stated “the Internet of Things, new generation solar panels, more efficient electric vehicles and high performing biofuels are all pieces of the CO2 reducing puzzle”, but no more so than the profound cultural changes that organizations need to undertake.

In France, both the Nice-Côte d’Azur and Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airports are the two main airports that have been certified as carbon neutral. In Nice, efforts have widely focused on electricity sourced 100% from French hydraulic production, in partnership with EDF. They also have electrically powered airport shuttles that use “trickle charging” (recharge at each stop) and a stand-alone power supply. Put together, these efforts represent a reduction of over 75% of emissions in a kilogram equivalent of C02 per passenger. At “Saint Ex” the mix is more complex: electric vehicles, electricity and heating pricing incentives, decentralized heat but also the use of Collaborative Decision Making, and finally optimizing and shortening ground travel time for aircrafts. Most of all, the airport is especially well known for building the first ever fully HQE certified terminal in France. The construction process for infrastructure, highly carbon intensive, remains a major challenge.

Amongst other strategies, equipping airports with renewable energy producing systems should be a priority – VINCI systematically examines this option for all new projects: small wind-powered parks or photovoltaic centers, including for individual on-site consumption, or even hydrogen stations to power bus batteries. Hype’s taxi fleet, launched by Air Liquide (French world leader in industrial gases) and the Caisse des Dépôts (the “investment arm” of the French State) during COP21, are equipped with their own hydrogen stations at both Roissy and Orly airports near Paris.

Nonetheless, the amount of effort that the air transportation industry still has to make remains massive, including what needs to be done to tackle the biofuel revolution: airports have their jobs cut out for them, such as integrating storage infrastructure, mixing and distributing biofuels current systems, etc.

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