How Does Sustainability and Electrification Fit into Airports?

Aug. 30, 2023
McFarland Johnson Aviation Engineer Scott Shillieto and Denver International Airport Senior VP of Sustainability Scott Morrissey share their thoughts about sustainability and electrification and how airports should prepare for the future.
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As the aviation industry braces for the future, airports need to consider how sustainability fits into their infrastructure goals especially as passenger numbers are increasing. The biggest question airports need to be asking is ‘How prepared are we for electrification’? 

McFarland Johnson Aviation Engineer Scott Shillieto talks about what the industry needs to do to prepare for electrification and Denver International Airport Senior VP of Sustainability Scott Morrissey shares what the airport is doing to work toward a sustainable future and how electrification fits into that picture.   

DEN’s Vision 100 

Vision 100 is DEN’s plan to prepare for and reach 100 million annual passengers. Part of that goal includes sustainability and resiliency as the airport continues to grow its infrastructure to accommodate more future passengers.  

According to DEN, the overall goal is to “become the greenest airport in the world, while ensuring that our actions and decisions foster a healthy and resilient organization.” 

The airport has a number of sustainability goals they want to meet as they plan to reach 100 million passengers in the next eight to 10 years. Denver International Airport Senior VP of Sustainability Scott Morrissey said from a greenhouse gas emissions reduction side, the airport is focused on the City and County of Denver's goals to reduce emissions 65% by 2030, and to get to net-zero emissions by 2040. 

“As part of Vision 100, we realize that we have a responsibility not just to reduce the emissions' intensity of our existing facilities, but as we're growing, we need to make sure that those new designs are as efficient as they possibly can be,” Morrissey said, “As part of our Concourse Expansion Program, which added 39 new gates over the last 18 months, as well as our Great Hall Redevelopment, we have committed to building all of those to what's called LEED. And so, each of those projects is coming with a 30% to 40% reduction in water and energy efficiency, and it's really critical to ensure that each new square footage that we build is going to be significantly more efficient than what we already have.” 

Why is going net-zero important? 

“It's really important that the industry gets to net-zero as quickly as we can because whereas right now, we know that the emissions associated with the aviation industry represents about 2% of global totals,” Morrissey said. “Aviation is a particularly difficult to decarbonize industry, and so it's important that we make these design decisions right now, especially when we're talking about buildings with a 30, 40, 50-year lifespan, because we need to make sure that as other industries are decarbonizing faster, that we're not far falling further behind. And the only way that we can do that is by building more efficiently now with the expectation that we're going to be transitioning to net-zero designs over the next several years.” 

Is the aviation industry prepared to go net-zero? 

“I think one of the challenges right now is just building the demand for net-zero design and construction. Having people within the industry, the contractors, the project managers, to understand the importance, understanding how to get there in an efficient way. And I think it's something that we're all working on together, is to make sure that we have both the internal will to commit to this level of sustainable design, but also making sure that we have the business partners in place to actually deliver on those promises,” Morrissey said.  

Going electric  

McFarland Johnson Aviation Engineer Scott Shillieto said the aviation industry needs to be concerned about electrification.  

“We have U.S. initiatives to transition to 50% electric vehicles by 2030. This is coming up very quick. It's only six and a half years away. The power required to support the electric vehicles on the charging side, the preparation needs to start now,” Shillieto said. “Most airports can't support the current penetration of EVs with their electrical capacity. So, if we're looking six and a half years out, if you realize a 50% EV penetration rate, it's very substantial, and the planning and the preparation needs to be considered now so that when we get to that arrival, we have the power to support those vehicles.” 

How much power is required for EVs? 

“How much power required is dependent on your facility, and not just your facility and your philosophy, how you're approaching charging in your garage, how much the rental car companies need,” Shillieto said. “To give you an example, at DFW I'm projecting that the rental car companies will need about 45 megawatts. This is a large amount of power and more than what their current facility uses in total. So, 45 megawatts is equivalent to nine million cell phones charging [simultaneously]. It's also equivalent to 15,000 dryers operating simultaneously.” 

What can airports do to help prepare themselves? 

“Airports can help prepare themselves by talking to tenants, coming up with a philosophy for charging themselves if that's something they want to support in the garage, talking to tenants on your FBO side, if eVOTLS are something that you're going to want to prepare for, talking to your cargo, your Amazons, your FedExes - a lot of them are transitioning to electric fleets - and most importantly, talking to your rental car companies. They are going to drive the power demand requirement because it's a large fleet. When vehicles are sitting, they're not making any money. They need to turn these vehicles around quick, and with the required power to support that, that's very substantial,” Shillieto said. 

EV Stations at DEN 

“We recognize that the market is transitioning very quickly to electric vehicles, and that goes across a number of different types of uses,” Morrissey said. “And so, specifically for us, one of the first uses that's going to be transitioning over to almost entirely electric is our rental car facilities as well as our ride-share providers.” 

In 2023, DEN will be building eight new DC fast charging stations for ride-share drivers. 

“We're also having really important conversations with our rental car providers to make sure that we have the power capacity and the charging infrastructure available as they're making those transitions as well,” Morrissey said.  

How DEN plans to support power requirements for electric vehicles 

“There's really significant challenges associated with the amount of power. Just in the context of Denver, even being as large of an airport as we are, we're talking about charging requirements that require two and three times the amount of electrical capacity that we right now have for the entire rest of the airport,” Morrissey said. “And so, we're in very close conversations, early planning stages with our local utility, because we recognize that we're talking about a five-to-seven-year planning horizon to make sure that we have the power that's going to be required to support our business partners and that transition to lower carbon forms of transportation.” 

How DEN is reducing greenhouse gas emissions despite passenger number increases  

“Greenhouse gas emissions at Denver have actually been reduced by about 30% over the course of the last 10 years, despite the fact that we've had a 30% increase in passengers over that time. And that's being driven by a couple of different factors. First is the fact that as an airport, we are committed to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. And so that is everything from reducing the emissions associated with our existing facilities through energy efficiency projects. That is ensuring that our new construction is as efficient as it possibly can be. It's a significant investment in renewable energy. But it's also the work that we're doing with our local utility to be pushing them and supporting their existing plans to decarbonize the electricity that they're delivering to the airport,” Morrissey said.