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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Midwestern Airport Uses ‘Green’ Products to Address Common Airfield Challenges

Following positive results from a trial run, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Int'l Airport is planning to continue using Nachurs' Alpine RF-14F® deicer for the 2019/2020 winter.

Weather in the Midwest may be unpredictable, but the commitment to environmental safety at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) is not. The evolving Midwestern airport is proactively tackling airfield challenges with environmentally friendly products, including a deicing fluid that minimizes harmful effects to the nearby ecosystem.

Matthew Gabbert, Senior Manager of Airfield Maintenance at CVG, notes that he and his staff are always on the lookout for products that will make conditions and tasks safer for airport employees, passengers and neighbors.

“We want to be green in our operations and keep our eyes open to environmental concerns,” Gabbert explains. “As an organization, we take a lot of care and pride in the fact that we are doing things the right way.”

Over the last three years, CVG has grown local passenger volumes by more than 50 percent, now serving about 9 million passengers per year. Air cargo is a huge part of the airport’s footprint, too. Amazon is building an air cargo hub at the airport, which represents a $1.5 billion investment; and DHL operates its second-busiest “global super hub” out of CVG.

“Our airport campus has changed a lot over the last 10 years ago, so we want to make sure we’re doing our job to make sure we’re taking care of the environment around us,” Gabbert comments.

‘Greener’ deicing

Gabbert decided to try a potassium formate pavement deicer from Nachurs Alpine Solutions after reading an article about its success at Denver International Airport. Although CVG had a milder-than-usual winter in 2018/19, personnel were still able to put the environmentally friendly deicer to the test. Based on the results, Gabbert plans to continue using the product this winter. BASF has the only formic plant in the Americas, allowing for local production and supply of formic acid, the key ingredient for Nachurs’ Alpine RF-14F®.

Kerry Sayther, marketing manager for chemical intermediates at BASF, notes that RF-14F® is a 50 percent by weight w/w potassium formate-based solution that meets FAA requirements of the latest edition SAE AMS1435D specifications.

Sayther notes that acetate (another common deicing chemical) and formate have similar freezing points, but different environmental implications. “The chemical oxygen demand required for the potassium formate vs. acetate is three times less,” she explains.

That means that potassium acetate pulls three times more oxygen that is needed by surrounding plants, wildlife and marine creatures.

Although many North American airports use potassium acetate solutions for deicing, BASF’s formic acid plant in Louisiana now makes it possible for them to access a more sustainable, biodegradable product that has been available and successfully applied in Europe for decades.

Sayther acknowledges that the somewhat higher price of potassium formate deicer is offset by performance and environmental benefits.

“If environmental concerns are a focus at your airport, this is definitely the optimal choice when it comes to deicing.” — Kerry Sayther

Gabbert emphasizes that it’s important to balance cost with results. Moreover, he says that throughout his 22 years at CVG, management has always been willing to try something new. If it proves to be beneficial, then officials make sure it’s also a good investment, he adds.

Last winter, his team worked to educate crews about the RF-14F® deicer, assign specific trucks to carry it and label equipment accordingly.

“The product is readily accessible, and our stormwater manager would like to trial it for a few more years yet to see how it does, since we had a mild winter,” he adds. “In addition to the environmental benefits, it should last a bit longer because it requires fewer applications.”

This post, written by Jennifer Bradley for Airport Improvement magazine, was previously published in October 2019.