O’Hare already has a solar thermal installation on its fire department station, with 10 solar thermal collectors installed in 2006 that provide the building’s hot water. Chicago’s other airport, Midway International, has 24 wind turbines on its elevated parking structure.
Among other measures touted by the aviation department, Chicago’s airports have installed eight electric vehicle charging stations – one that can fully charge a vehicle in half an hour, and seven that charge a vehicle in three to eight hours. And the department says installing 1,100 efficient runway lights and 2,400 interior lights will save enough energy to power 68 homes.
Promotional videos add that the installation of water bottle filling stations past security avoids the emission of 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, presumably in the bottling and transport of disposable water bottles, though it is unclear how many passengers using the filling stations would actually have bought water otherwise.
The bigger picture
Even the most innovative improvements at airports in the Midwest and elsewhere could be a relative drop in the bucket if air traffic continues to grow without major regulatory, technology and corporate behavior changes in the U.S. and abroad.
A 1999 IPCC report warns of greatly increased emissions from aviation in spite of technology and efficiency improvements, because of the sector’s projected growth (though these projections were made before the global economic crisis).
As the IPCC report notes, aircraft emissions can be reduced substantially through increased engine efficiency, more streamlined or lighter aircraft design, cleaner (lower sulfur) fuel or alternate fuels such as hydrogen and biofuels. Air traffic control management practices and simply reducing the total number of flights could also cut down on emissions. But these measures are basically matters of federal regulation and airline company policy; individual airports or city administrations have little power over such factors.
The International Air Traffic Association, which represents 230 airlines in 125 countries, in 2007 adopted a carbon emissions reduction platform based on improvements in technology, infrastructure and management (including air traffic control), combined with economic incentives. The plan has to do mainly with the role of airline companies and the federal government, though airports and municipal aviation agencies like those in Chicago could figure in.
Chicago’s aviation department has also partnered with United Airlines, Boeing, Honeywell and the Clean Energy Trust in forming the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI), which promotes research and development of lower-emissions aviation biofuels in a 12-state region.
Pride said the project, “holds promise for biomass feedstock, technology development, job creation and sustainable commercialization. MASBI will deliver a comprehensive evaluation of the region’s biofuel potential and a plan to support regional and national needs in a responsible manner.”
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