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Volpe and MassDOT Partner to Create First-Ever Carbon Neutral Airport

carbon neutral airport

Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) are working together to create the first-ever carbon neutral airport at Nantucket Memorial Airport in Nantucket, Mass. If successful, the result could mean a significant positive impact on the environment, as the program could serve as a template for other airports within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as well as nationwide.

Based on Volpe’s experience in successfully implementing energy-saving initiatives at its own facility and its in-house expertise in measuring and modeling transportation energy and emissions, Volpe approached MassDOT to take part in the pilot program at Nantucket Airport.

Chosen from among five Massachusetts general aviation airports, the Nantucket airport has been environmentally proactive for years, boasting among other improvements a terminal with a geothermal heating system.

"The fact that the Nantucket Airport has been environmentally progressive for years will make the work of squeezing out even greater energy reductions a little more challenging," said project manager David Arthur of Volpe’s Center for Environmental and Energy Systems. "The upside is that the baseline is much closer to carbon neutrality. The airport’s dedication to reducing its carbon footprint will pay dividends in both environmental benefits and modernized, energy-efficient infrastructure onsite."

Pilot Program Phases

The pilot program’s first phase, which is currently underway, consists of collecting data to develop a comprehensive baseline inventory of all greenhouse gases under the airport’s control. Staff from Volpe and MassDOT will identify operations emissions, such as transportation and refrigerant use. The key step to the first phase is evaluating proposals from different energy service companies and then selecting a company to implement these energy-saving measures.

The second phase consists of implementing the energy-saving measures. Net carbon neutrality may be achieved by reducing energy demand, converting remaining energy users to lower carbon sources, and/or offsetting emissions through renewable energy generation or credits. Reducing energy demand will be realized though efficiency projects, such as upgrades to retrofit mechanical equipment and lighting systems, and conservation projects, such as new automation systems, operational changes, and staff training. Some examples of renewable energy sources under consideration are solar panels (both ground and roof-mounted), biofuel conversion, and geothermal expansion.

Leveraging Volpe’s Expertise

Volpe is currently in the second round of pursuing energy savings through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program at its own facility in Cambridge, Mass. Based on the experience gained and lessons learned during this initiative, Volpe staff are well-positioned to leverage their expertise and provide valuable recommendations to the Nantucket Airport pilot program.

Volpe staff with experience in engineering, modeling, and project management provide process and technical sustainability expertise in several areas of the pilot program:

  • Evaluating proposal submissions from energy service companies
  • Providing independent energy modeling/auditing
  • Tracking greenhouse gas inventory
  • Collecting energy data as part of a measurement and validation plan
  • Conducting training programs
  • Assisting installation management with engineering support
  • Writing reports and updating websites.

"This pilot program is a testbed that could have a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an extremely positive way," said Arthur. "According to Airlines for America, there are over 19,700 airports in the U.S. If even a small fraction of these airports approaches carbon neutrality based on the lessons and practices learned from this program, there could be a significant, measurable reduction in transportation-based carbon emissions."

Ed.: This article originally appeared in Volpe’s news center on July 25, 2013.

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