A Cleaner Driving Force: Airports find benefits in alternative fuels

Feb. 8, 2004

A Cleaner Driving Force

by Jodi Richards, Associate Editor

Airports find benefits in alternative fuels

As airports across the nation try to clean up their image in the community, many are turning to alternative fuels, such as propane or natural gas. Both burn cleaner and, if readily available, can be cheaper. Following is a look at programs at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Los Angeles World Airports.

Spokesperson for the City of Austin Department of Aviation Jackie Mayo says the city is very big on the environment, whether it's clean air, solar energy, or green space. And for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport specifically, the theme is "being a good neighbor." She adds that many people think of airports as "giant polluters" and a program like the Central Texas Clean Cities program, with which the City is involved, can help change that perception.

Although the airport doesn't currently have many alternative fuel vehicles, the airlines as well as the parking shuttles use propane-fueled vehicles. "Currently, they all have to go off airport property to refuel," explains Mayo.

Last year the airport broke ground and construction is almost complete on a propane fueling station on airport property. "Our propane facility is going to be two-prong," Mayo says. "It will have an air side, which will be used by the airport shuttles as well as the airlines for their forklifts and some of their tugs, and a land side which is going to be for public consumption. So if you have a propane fueled automobile or equipment, you'll be able to fuel it right here at the airport."

According to Mayo, the funding for the propane fueling station came from a grant from the Propane Education Research Council as well as funds from the Aviation Department and City of Austin Fleet Services. The airport projects 1.3 million gallons in annual propane fuel sales, with some 300,000 gallons in landside sales.

The Clean Cities program has been active in Central Texas since 1992, according to coordinator Stacy Neef. It works to promote the use of alternative fuel vehicles in a five county region. "It's a Department of Energy-sponsored program and the main goal is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

On average, Neef says, propane runs some 35 percent cleaner than gasoline, and natural gas runs some 90 percent cleaner than gasoline. She adds that "traditionally, alternative fuels are less expensive. It just depends on where you get it. If you have to go to a propane dealer who normally services for heating, you're going to pay more. But if you have a fleet of propane vehicles and you have propane fueling at your location, it's going to be less than gasoline. It's the same thing with natural gas."

Neef says the addition of this fueling station at Austin-Bergstrom will be "wonderful" for the program, as the lack of an infrastructure in the region has hampered the growth of the program. The goal of each Clean Cities program is 17 percent increase in alternative fuel usage. According to Neef, the Central Texas group is far from the goal, but developments like this will increase usage and support of the program.


Public information officer Pasquale DiFulco explains the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey developed a compressed natural gas (CNG) station master plan in the early '90s, using a $1.5 million federal grant. "Part of that plan," he says, "provided for building CNG fueling infrastructure at the airports and the first station we opened was at JFK, which was a partnership between the Port Authority and Keyspan Energy."

The station at JFK is operated by Keyspan Energy and is used by the airport, tenants, taxi fleets, and the general public.

In November 2003, the Port Authority, in partnership with BP, Clean Energy Fuels, and Keyspan Energy opened a CNG fueling station at LaGuardia. "It was actually a condition of the lease that we had originally drafted," DiFulco says. "We had federal funds and used those to provide the grant to install the necessary infrastructure. BP subleased the CNG station operation to Clean Energy Fuels, which then arranged for the construction and installation of the facility."

The Port Authority currently has more than 350 clean fuel vehicles in its fleet, of which 214 are CNG, according to DiFulco. Staffers traveling between facilities, as well as maintenance and operations staff utilize the alternative fuel vehicles.

"Now that we have this station at LaGuardia," says DiFulco, "We're actively encouraging airport tenants and users to convert more of their fleets to CNG. We believe that with the convenience of having a fueling facility on-airport and having it readily accessible will certainly play into our encouragement, so to speak."

DiFulco agrees with Austin-Bergstrom's Mayo on the program making the airport a "good neighbor."

"It's good sense," he says. "It's good business practice. We pay a lot of attention to being good neighbors to those communities that host our facilities. And we recognize the importance that being environmentally sensitive plays in the overall picture of being a good neighbor."

LAWA's Program

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) began its alternative fuel program in 1993. After a decade, it has built its fleet to more than 350 vehicles, which is 47 percent of the airport's vehicles. The next goal: 50 percent by 2005. According to Dave Waldner, assistant chief of construction and maintenance, LAWA primarily uses natural gas for its fleet, either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). He says although the airport has the infrastructure for both natural gas and propane, natural gas is preferred because it is a cleaner burning fuel. LAWA has invested some $2.5 million in fueling infrastructure, and it owns and operates its own LNG station at LAX, at which LNG is also converted to CNG. LAWA also has a CNG fueling station at Van Nuys Airport. "We started the program as a way to take a leadership role to help clean the air in and around the airport," Waldner says. "There were no laws or mandates at that time, but we felt that it would be a good thing in terms of our commitment to the community and efforts to our environmental programs." Waldner says the airport uses some two million gallons of LNG per year for the LAWA fleet, some of which is converted for use in CNG vehicles. The airport has a LNG-fueled shuttle bus fleet of 61 that transports passengers to the terminal from outlying parking lots, and, according to Waldner, has never experienced a disruption of service because it runs on alternative fuels. In total, the buses have logged "more than 8.7 million miles and over 700,000 hours of operation." The airport continues to advance its program by adding alternative fuel vehicles and researching other options such as hydrogen fuel. Waldner says they are currently assisting a company that is interested in building a hydrogen fuel facility at the airport. "We're looking at how we can use new alternative fuel technology to further enhance our program," he says.