The race to clean up aviation is speeding up, as world-leading airports look to demonstrate their green credentials and their commitment to creating a carbon-neutral industry. Through a combination of renewable energy production and emission reduction strategies, airports are using every tool at their disposal to hit those all-important sustainability targets.
With 2023 just starting, we’re already seeing airports around the world accelerating their net-zero plans. While 2050 remains the goal for many, over half of Europe’s airports have made 2030 their new net-zero goal. In the US, the aviation industry’s target remains 2050, yet many pioneering airports are forging ahead with roadmaps that predict carbon neutrality by the end of the decade. In the Middle East, the abundance of hydrocarbon-based fuels makes net-zero a more complex affair, but the acceleration of renewable energy installations and green tech adoption here means that the region may yet outpace its counterparts.
The following are three of the main emissions-reducing strategies that we expect to see more widely adopted in 2023 and across the rest of the decade.
On-site renewable energy production
One of the most avidly pursued strategies by airports looking to go green is to eliminate fossil fuels entirely from their energy mix. While major airports still largely rely on their national grid for power, increasingly they are looking towards renewables to cover their own energy needs and perhaps even feed some back to the grid itself.
Adjoining solar and wind farms are popular routes for this approach, as is the increasingly common practice of utilising the large open spaces of airport building rooftops for solar panel emplacements. This is just the start of the renewable ramp-up, however, with airports looking to maximise their green energy potential as we head towards 2030.
Exemplar airport: Delhi Airport
In June 2022, Delhi Airport announced that it has become the first airport in India to operate solely using renewable energy. In this case, it combines the use of an adjoining 7.84 MW solar power plant with another 5.3 MW of rooftop solar installations. The remainder of the airports electricity needs are supplied via a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA) with a Himachal Pradesh-based hydropower plant.
Lighting, heating and cooling sustainability pushes
While ground operations involving the turnaround of planes account for major CO2 emissions, what goes on inside the airport is just as important from a sustainability perspective. Lighting, heating and cooling within massive terminal buildings and across all support infrastructure can account for as much as half of an airport’s CO2 emissions. Overhauling such systems, including the use of LED lighting, renewable or low-emissions heat sources, and automated control platforms, continue to be instrumental in the fight to lighten the carbon footprint of airports across the world. Leading industry players, such as Saudi Airport Exhibition exhibitor Groupe ADP, have the airport engineering and project management solutions necessary to bring any airport up to the latest in international sustainability standards.
Exemplar airport: Sharjah International Airport
Sharjah was recognised in mid-2020 as the first-carbon neutral airport in the Gulf region. Since then, it has continued to optimise energy efficiency and cut emissions wherever possible. Since 75% of the airport’s CO2 emissions come from electricity consumption, Sharjah’s management team have focused on improving the sustainability of its lighting and heating systems, culminating in over 40+ projects targeting different parts of the airport. The latest of these is its Cargo Terminal Lighting Project to replace all old halogen and fluorescent lighting setups with the latest energy efficient LED lighting, as well as a comprehensive retrofit/replacement of the cooling system. Once complete, this single project will reduce the airport’s annual emissions by 263 tonnes of carbon.
Advanced waste management measures
Producing cleaner energy and running more efficient operations are key, but another often-overlooked pillar of emissions reduction is waste management. Airports can be massive waste producing machines – from retail and food outlets to sewerage, there is plenty of scope to clean up and utilise airport waste.
Exemplar airport: Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Dubai World Central Airport (DWC)
Dubai Airports, operators of DXB and DWC are currently on track to complete a project that will recycle 60% of all waste produced by both airports by the end of 2023. Launched last year, the project is a multi-faceted approach, which includes a comprehensive treatment plan to collect and compost over 2,000 tonnes of food waste per year. Since food waste produces methane, it is up to 72 times more harmful to the environment than CO2. This part of the plan relies on an advanced high-tech biodigester compost system, created in partnership with BEEAH Group and installed in multiple locations across DXB.
Greener Airports are the foundation of a sustainable aviation industry
2023 is already shaping up to be a pivotal year for airport sustainability, itself a major contributor to the net-zero targets of the entire aviation industry. With more airport poised to boost the contribution of renewables to their energy mix, they can cut swathes of CO2 and other harmful emissions. Meanwhile, ongoing efforts to optimise existing lighting, heating and cooling systems are essential for addressing long-standing sources of needless emissions and wasted energy. Similarly, airports are cleaning up their act when it comes to waste, a crucial element in improving the long-term health of the global environment as well as public health itself.
As the year unfolds, expect to see airports doubling down on such projects, while also becoming more innovative and accepting of advance clean technology systems to produce quick wins that build towards long-term emissions savings.