Portland Jetport Produces All of its Deicing Fluid In-House

Portland Jetport Produces All of its Deicing Fluid In-House
Author: 
Victoria Soukup
Published in: 
March
2018

Airfield maintenance crews at Portland International Jetport (PWM) in Maine had one less item on their to-do list last fall: They didn’t have to order any aircraft deicing fluid for the upcoming winter. It was a bold change for the Atlantic coast airport, which receives an average of 62 inches of snow annually and is no stranger to blistery nor’easters.

“For the first time, we are introducing a closed-loop process, which is really brilliant,” reports Airport Director Paul Bradbury. “We will not be buying any new product. Every bit of Type I deicing fluid we spray on aircraft this year will be from reclaimed fluid.”

The airport’s product is coming from its own on-site plant, which manufactures aircraft-grade deicing fluid using virgin quality propylene glycol distilled on-site from effluent collected during 2016/17 winter deicing operations. Moreover, the plant has created two new revenue streams for PWM. It sells the deicing fluid it produces, and it collects fees from other airports for accepting their deicing effluent.  

facts&figures

Project: Recycling Effluent from Aircraft Deicing Operations

Location: Portland (ME) Int’l Jetport 

Process: Distilling effluent to 99.1% propylene glycol
& using it to produce Type I Aircraft Deicing Fluid—for use & outside sales

Projected Cost Savings
for 2017/18 Winter:
18% 

Facility Size: 7,000 sq. ft.

Storage: 60,000 gallons of Type I deicing fluid
available at all times

Blending Capability: 10,000 gallons in 5 hrs

Plant Owner: Airport, which is owned/operated
by the city of Portland

Project Partner/Plant Operator: Inland Technologies Int’l

Owner of Proprietary Processes: Inland Technologies Int’l

Consulting Engineer: Stantec

Electrical Engineer: MED 

Effluent Recycled: 6.5 million gallons (2010 thru 2017)

Glycol Reclaimed: 1 million gallons (2010 thru 2017)

Of Note: 47% of effluent that is recycled comes from other airports, which pay associated processing fees

“The first recycled aircraft deicing fluid certified for resale in the country is what we are producing here at Portland Jetport,” Bradbury says proudly. “It meets all FAA test requirements for a Type I deicing fluid and is chemically identical to a non-recycled fluid.”

As of December 2017, the facility had sold aircraft deicer to White Plains Airport in Westchester County, NY, and Logan International in Boston. In addition, the plant produces and sells FlightBloo, an antifreeze used in aircraft lavatories, which is also manufactured using recycled glycols.  

The airport owns the recycling/processing facility and associated storage tanks; Inland Technologies International owns the processing and blending equipment inside the facility. Plant operators are employees of Inland, and the company owns the proprietary processes it uses at PWM. The airport and Inland partner to sell the plant’s final product. “It is structured that way so we both participate in the upside financial benefits of the sale,” explains Bradbury. 

Roger Langille, president and chief executive officer of the Inland Group of Companies, is pleased with the structure and results of the arrangement. “As a corporate group, we have enjoyed serving the Portland Jetport over the years,” he remarks. “The model is one based on a partnership; and seeing the project expand over time to better meet the needs of the airport and the region is something we are all very proud to be part of.”

Win-Win for Airport & Environment

The collection and recycling process has been a long time coming—starting about a decade ago, with PWM’s capital improvement plan. At the time, management was talking with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection about changing how the airport disposed of runoff from deicing operations. 

“Even though it was a small amount, we were essentially discharging effluent [containing propylene glycol] into the ocean via the Fore River,” Bradbury explains. Although propylene glycol is not toxic, it can kill fish and other aquatic life because it depletes oxygen as it breaks down in water. 

Being essentially landlocked on 769 acres, PWM did not have space available to construct aeration ponds or other commonly used options for treating deicing effluent. “We had to go in a different direction,” says Bradbury. The idea to pursue full capture and recycling was the result of research by airport staff and Stantec, PWM’s engineering consultant. 

The airport eased into the venture by contracting Inland to develop and operate a small on-site glycol recycling facility. Operations began in 2010, with a collection system that captured the airport’s deicing effluent and equipment that distilled the fluid to 50% propylene glycol concentration and produced a raw-grade glycol product. Clean water left over from the process was discharged to the local wastewater treatment plant, explains Adam Thurlow, Inland’s plant operation manager. The facility even produced a small amount of revenue by collecting fluid containing propylene glycol from area businesses that use it for non-aviation purposes.  

“But it was still very expensive, and it put us at a cost disadvantage against other airports that were not doing this type of capture and processing,” Bradbury notes. “It did, however, put us on the trajectory to a process whereby we were capturing the value of otherwise wasted propylene glycol. We recognized this value could make us more competitive with other processes such as aeration ponds other airports were using.”

One year later, Inland added a distillation plant for an in-depth trial. The goal was to determine the feasibility of creating a high-grade propylene glycol product that could be sold to area businesses for use in heating/cooling units and to winterize recreational vehicles.

“The availability of this locally-produced glycol delivered regional economic benefits and competitive advantages for the industry,” says Thurlow. “Furthermore, the value obtained from product sales helped offset the costs of operation.”

Soon, the facility began receiving and processing glycol-impacted stormwater from neighboring airports. The plant charged a small fee to further offset the operational costs paid by the city of Portland, which owns and operates the airport. 

By 2015, it was clear that the trial was working and full-scale operation made sense, explains Thurlow. By late 2016, the currently used 7,000-square-foot facility was commissioned. It combined existing 166,667-gallon underground tank and 333,333-gallon underground tanks with new aboveground storage on a two-acre site. These days, the facility has 60,000 gallons of Type I deicing fluid available at all times and can blend 10,000 gallons every five hours.

Each year, crews at PWM spray approximately 100,000 gallons of aircraft de-icer, which contains about 50,000 gallons of concentrated Type I fluid, notes Thurlow. 

Collection & Processing

Effluent at PWM is collected in two ways: a drainage system on the deicing pad funnels it into underground tanks, and a mobile recovery vehicle vacuums it into onboard tanks. 

As the effluent is drained off the tarmac, plant operators use a valve to direct high or low concentrations of mixed deicing fluid effluent to one of the two underground tanks. This saves time and resources during subsequent processing in the lower concentration tank. 

The Glyvac, a patented recovery vehicle the airport purchased from Inland last year, shears visible effluent off apron surfaces using air speeds of nearly 200 mph. It also scrubs away trace amounts of glycol with a wash bar. 

“The Glyvac was purposed-engineered from the bottom up for airport glycol recovery operations,” recalls Thurlow. “But while street sweepers are great for picking up items from the street, they aren’t necessarily great at picking up glycol. The Glyvac is specially designed for airport use, as opposed to an airport using a vehicle originally designed for another industry.”

Bradbury reports that the vehicle saves PWM time and money. “In an active snow or mixed rain and ice event, you are getting all that precipitation mixing with the deicing fluid,” he explains. “If you’re right up there with the glycol recovery vehicle, actively catching it on the ramp before it has time to flow the length of the ramp and enter the drainage system, you’ve removed much of the opportunity for significant mixing. You can see on the apron right where the fluid is accumulating and be efficient at capturing fluid at higher glycol concentrations.”

Since 2010, Inland has recycled about 6.5 million gallons of effluent at PWM, reclaiming 1 million gallons of pure glycol. Nearly half (47%) of the fluid it processes has come from other airports in the region—Bradley International in Windsor Locks, CT; Dulles International, Reagan National and Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.; New York’s LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey.

While the economics of the process are positive, Thurlow notes that Inland has not lost sight of its original mission. Prior to 2010, the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) readings were very high in the stormwater surrounding the airport. Since Inland began operating, levels have stayed below 300 mg/L. 

“Having our current level below 300 mg/L is a significant environmental achievement,” he emphasizes. The stormwater readings are very clean and in the process we are reclaiming a chemical for local reuse. What would have been harmful is now transformed into a benefit.”

Competitors Welcome

While PWM is proud to be the first U.S. airport producing aircraft-grade deicing fluid from material previously considered waste, Bradbury hopes it won’t be the last. He acknowledges that processing effluent from other airports helps the industry, because less fluid has to be trucked long distances for disposal or recycling. But he would still like to see more collection sites emerge. “Another facility in the mid-Atlantic would split the distance,” he says. “Today, we’re ‘it’ in the United States in terms of getting final distillation to a 99% pure propylene and then manufacturing it into deicing fluid.”

Between the revenue it earns from accepting outside effluent and selling recycled product, PWM expects to save 18% in the 2017/18 winter. “Business nirvana would be 100 percent; we’re not there yet,” quips Bradbury. “If we get to 50%, 60%, 70% offset, we’re getting pretty close. But even an aeration pond isn’t free. 

“This will be our first year buying all our own product and meeting demand all from reclaimed product,” he continues. “We don’t know all the numbers yet—it could be that we beat the 18% which we are projecting.”

In addition to recycling the glycol it collects, PWM is also working to have less glycol to collect. Bradbury acknowledges Northeast Air, the airport’s deicing contractor for almost 50 years, for reducing the amount of glycol it sprays. “We have actively participated in the evolution of deicing technology,” says Henry Laughlin, the company’s president. “Our introduction of AirFirst technology trucks significantly reduced the volume of glycol used in the overall process, and our glycol blending system ensures minimal waste. We are all proud we completed the circle through this season’s application of recycled glycol using the world’s most advanced deicing equipment.”

Bradbury considers the airport’s recycling initiative an easy sell, because it involves sustainability and technology. “Overall, this is where the industry is going,” he reflects. “We’re using the best available technology; we’re capturing the maximum amount. It’s not going into the environment, and it’s being treated efficiently without any loss of the original product. We’re trying to keep the original market value of the product without having to truck it or discharge it. And we do think the economics will be there.”

Subcategory: 
Operations

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