When Nature is your Neighbor...

June 25, 2007
As soon as the Airmen at Grand Forks Air Force Base realized their glycol runoff posed a risk to a neighboring wildlife refuge, recycling options were quickly explored.

An escalation in winter flight operations has resulted in increased glycol recycling at Grand Forks Air Force Base. “Recycling sounds like an odd by-product of aircraft deicing but that’s exactly what happened,” says TSgt Eric Tilton, with Grand Forks AFB.

How it began
The base is home to the large KC-135 air refueling tankers. Large aircraft require a lot of chemical in order to be deiced safely. In the 2004 winter season, due to increased flight operations in support of homeland security, there was a significant spike in consumption of aircraft deicing fluid.

This was complicated by the fact that geographically, Grand Forks is adjacent to the Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge and flows from the ramp tend to enter the Turtle River, a class II trout stream. “Given the combination of increased consumption of deicing fluid and the geographic proximity to a protected wetland area, we saw the best way forward was to implement a waste deicing fluid collection and recycling program,” says Tilton.

Grand Forks AFB has a long tradition of waste stream diversion and recycling, earning numerous awards over the years for its innovative programs.

Reduce and reuse
The approach to the aircraft deicing fluid problem was similar to other projects in that steps were taken to first reduce the volume of chemical used and then implement a recycling program.

Deicing trucks were equipped with high airflow nozzles to reduce the amount of chemical required to deice an aircraft. On the collection and recycling side of the equation, Inland Technologies was contracted to deliver a turnkey collection and recycling program. The company has similar programs in place at McGuire and Andrews as well as at civilian airports across North America.

Besides drain management for containment, a specialized vacuum truck called a GRV or Glycol Recovery Vehicle was brought on site and used to pick up waste chemical that falls to the ramp after an aircraft wings are cleaned of snow and ice.

All collected effluent is stored temporarily in double-walled tanks where it is later taken off site and recycled. Since the program started, well over 100,000 gallons of glycol-impacted storm water have been collected and recycled. After the recycling process is complete, the glycol that is extracted from the waste aircraft deicer is used in a number of industrial applications, including use as automotive coolant and as heat transfer fluid.

Promising results
“Initial program results have been positive,” says Tilton. “In 2005, during the first year of the program, the 319 Air Refueling Wing was nominated for the ‘2005 Chief of Staff Team Excellence Award,’ which was quite an honor. It was great to be nominated, but even more important is the fact that we’ve managed to keep waste glycol away from Kellys Slough and Turtle River.”