A Tour Of The Munich International Airport’s Deicing Recycling Plant

The airport saves millions in euros by recycling Type I fluid that’s as good as new and promptly used again right at the airport.


We had the opportunity to take a tour of the Munich International Airport’s Deicing Recycling Plant while attending last October’s inter airport Europe. Here’s some of what we heard and saw:

“Recycling is a win-win-win for Munich International Airport,” said Dr. Martin Westermaier, head of application aviation for Clariant during a press conference held prior to the tour. According to his data, the airport currently saves 2 million euros ($2.6 million) each year with its recycling program:

Recycling deicing fluid avoids the expensive costs normally involved in wastewater treatment of used deicer effluent.

Using recycled deicing fluid means the airport foregoes the purchase of as much as 2 million liters (528,000 gallons) of new deicing fluid.

In fact, the airport’s use of recycled fluid cuts the airport’s orders for new Type I fluid by as much as 70 percent.

Westermaier’s third “win” comes for one more item the airport avoids, in this case, not contributing 15,000 metric tons (16,500 tons) of carbon emissions. “To put that in perspective,” he added, “that’s the equivalent of 64,000 round-trip flights between Munich and London.”

THE TOUR

After the press conference and a drive to the airport, Thomas Bergstrom, managing director, Aircraft De-icing Engineering, took us for the tour and explained the process. It’d be hard to find a better tour guide: Bergstrom’s been overseeing the recycling plant’s operation since opening day.

A little history lesson may be in order to help explain how recycling deicer came to be in the first place. Munich International Airport opened in 1992, but the planning process for the new airport took 30 years. “Green Parties” in German politics influenced much of the planning, particularly in the 1980s. One big issue was that the airport was to be located in an area with high-level ground water. One legal condition placed on the airport dictated the following:

“The deicing procedures must not affect ground water and any other water within the airport area. It must not harm the sewage treatment plant … the approval of all deicing fluid has to be given by official authorities … unless the deicing fluids and procedures are approved, only nonchemical deicing procedures are allowed or flight operation has to be ceased … ”

“This meant that all glycol-contaminated storm water from the aprons, taxiways and runways had to be collected and treated,” Bergstrom said.

Airport management deemed a large investment to increase the capacity of the sewage plant was too much. How else to handle it? A task force came back with a straightforward recommendation: “Recycle the used aircraft deicing fluid for re-use on the airport.”

Recycling used deicing fluid was a relatively new idea at the time, but it was the obvious answer to these restrictions on the airport’s operations.

As the idea for building the recycling plant progressed, officials wrestled with a number of operational issues. For one, thicker anti-icing fluids such as Type IV could not be handled; only Type I could be reclaimed and recycled. (Type IV, however, has been pumped into the recycling plant since 2000, but used Type IV gets recycled as Type I.) In order to minimize the use of thicker fluid, deicing needed to be done close to runway heads that assured short hold-over times. Finally, the airport had to minimize the areas used for deicing.

“The solution involved construction of designated deicing pads located close to the runway ends along with a collection system to capture the used fluid,” Bergstrom explained.

The decision to build them, however, came late in the construction phase of the airport. The runways and taxiways, for example, were already in place. The locations of the pads made it impossible to connect them through a pipeline to the recycling plant.

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