Airports are also looking at the potential to generate their own renewable energy. Gatwick Airport is innovating in this area, having become the first airport in the world to dispose of Category 1 food waste from aircraft on-site. The treated material is then used to feed biomass boilers, providing a source of renewable energy to heat the airport’s waste management plant and power its water recovery system. The objective is to boost its recycling rate from 49% in 2017 to 85% by 2020 - higher than any UK airport. In India, Cochin International Airport is the world’s first solar-powered airport, producing 60,000 units of electricity every day, which is more than enough to meet its daily requirement.
However successful airports are in lessening the impact of their buildings, infrastructure and vehicles, the fact remains that aviation’s carbon footprint is dominated by the emissions associated with jet fuel. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for example, is seeking to become one of the first airports in the world to offer a reliable supply of biofuels which would cut aircraft emissions by up to 25%. WSP has been advising on the infrastructure needed for the storage and blending of aviation biofuels and its integration into the Sea-Tac fuel farm and hydrant system.
To date, the carbon reduction programmes implemented by airports have focussed almost exclusively on operational emissions. However, it is increasingly recognised that the carbon embodied in the construction of buildings and infrastructure, is a very significant part of the whole-life carbon impact of an airport. Estimates vary but some researchers believe embodied carbon could account for up to 50% of the total whole-life impact and it seems clear that this will need much greater attention in the future.
The final challenge is the sheer scale and complexity of the operations at many of today’s airports. Airport operators typically have direct control over a mere 10% of an airport’s total carbon emissions, with the multitude of airlines, caterers, cargo handlers, retailers and so on, responsible for the large majority. Consequently, effective engagement and partnership will be critical to deliver the low-carbon airports of the future.
Airports have come a long way in the last 10 to 15 years in reducing their carbon impact. However, they acknowledge that there is still much to do if they seek to play their full role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.