Air Travel and Efficiency: How U.S. Airports are Saving Energy

As you run through airport terminals this holiday season, don’t just fly by their energy-efficient features. Many airport terminals boast some of the country’s greatest advancements in energy efficiency.

Photos above and listed first below are courtesy of DFWairport.com.

Common Energy-Efficient Measures at U.S. Airports

Airports account for 5% of the aviation sector’s global carbon emissions, but that’s nothing to sneeze at. The energy-efficient technologies and processes they use avoid a significant amount of energy consumption. Airports’ most common energy-saving measures are in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and air-handling units, which have the job of conditioning and circulating air in large spaces with extreme swings in occupancy. Other common energy-efficient features are in lighting, with widespread use of LEDs and daylighting techniques.

Burgeoning advancements include fuel-efficient ground transport, with a focus on fuel cell-powered baggage vehicles. As part of President Barack Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, the Department of Energy is providing $2.5 million to major airports for fuel cell electric towing tractors that transport passenger baggage.

Six Energy-Efficient U.S. Airports

Boston (Mass.) Logan International Airport became the world’s first LEED-certified airport terminal in 2006. Its energy-efficient features include roofing materials that reflect the heat of the sun; automated and/or self-dimming lights throughout the facility; and restrooms with slow-flowing faucets and waterless urinals. Logan Airport also promotes eco-friendly transportation options to and from the airport, encouraging passengers to take the T (which has a stop at every terminal); request hybrid cabs (400 of them service Logan); or share a cab through a free iPhone app. In addition, special controllers installed on moving walkways reduce the power draw of their electric motors 24 hours a day for a savings of about 60,000 kWh per year.

Dallas-Fort Worth (Texas) International Airport is so energy-efficient that the Alliance granted it the Star of Energy Efficiency Award in 2005. Just a year before that win, DFW implemented a “continuous commissioning” program, in which the building control system continuously monitors key areas and equipment for inefficiencies. The program – which senses changes in the weather and occupancy to trigger reprogramming in building automation systems – has saved over $6 million in energy costs. DFW’s heating and cooling plant also includes a thermal energy storage system that shifts electrical loads to off-peak hours, which increases the efficiency of cooling operations and cuts costs.  

Chattanooga (Tenn.) Airport’s new energy-efficient, 9,000-square-foot corporate flight center terminal facility was awarded LEED Platinum rating in February 2012, making it the first aviation terminal in the world to achieve this level of certification. The certification was based on the airport's energy efficiency measures – including reserved parking for fuel-efficient vehicles – as well as renewable energy measures, which involve a halfway-completed 3 MW solar array that will power the entire airport. In addition, the 12,000-square-foot aircraft hangar at Chattanooga Airport is a LEED Gold-certified facility. The hangar’s energy-efficient features include an infrared heating system and a unique daylighting structure that brings windows into the hangar.

Denver International Airport is known as being efficient in all respects, holding the title of America’s Best Run Airport from Time Magazine. The LEED-Gold DIA was the first international airport in the United States to implement an ISO 14001-certified environmental management system that encompasses the entire airport. Improvements include a state-of-the-art parking “canopy” that is lit by LEDs and features geothermal heating and cooling. To save fuel in its aircraft on the ground, every mainline gate provides parked airplanes with plug-in power and pre-conditioned air so planes can turn off their on-board auxiliary power units. And to save fuel in ground transport, the airport conducted fleet vehicle retrofits that led to replacements with hybrid and electric vehicles; meanwhile, passenger pick-up and drop-off locations sport “no idling” signs.

  • Read more about DIA’s  environmental management system.
  • Watch the video above to learn about plans to expand DIA into an "airport city" based on smart growth.