Munich Airport

posted on 22nd June 2018

Michael Wühle has plenty to be proud of in his record as Munich Airport’s head of environmental protection. But Wühle still gets frustrated when some of his ideas for reducing carbon are rejected.

Munich Airport has impeccable green credentials. It was the first airport in Germany to receive a level 3 award for its efforts to reduce carbon from The Airport Council International (ACI Europe). Munich earned the accreditation in 2010 by demonstrating that its CO2 emissions in 2009 were 17,000 tons lower than the average level of the previous three years.

Wühle is especially proud of a certificate from the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). “This is renewed every three years and it means we have good environmental policies. They say we analyse environmental data in the right way and continuously monitor our projects and processes,” he said.

Whilst happy with the official approval of his work, Wühle says more could be done. He has a wealth of ideas which are sometimes blocked when colleagues fail to share his enthusiasm.

“In 2007, I started a project to use biofuels for our fleet of vehicles. I wanted to use rapeseed oil instead of diesel and bioethanol instead of fossil fuels,” he said. “My plan was to retrofit 400 of the 1,400 vehicles, but so far only 90 are running with biofuel,” he said.

A few technical issues didn’t help, but the major stumbling block was the employees’ unwillingness to drive the vehicles in case they became gravely ill.

“Many workers say rapeseed can cause cancer and refuse to use biofuels,” he said. “A lot of our bus drivers will go on strike if forced to drive these vehicles. In my view, the alleged connection between cancer and rapeseed oil is pseudo-science. But the drivers argue that ‘it may or may not be true, so we won’t take the risk.”

Another of Wühle’s frustrated ideas is a plan to introduce recycled grey water, for example in the airport’s rest rooms. This time money is the issue rather than his colleagues’ recalcitrance. “If you ask me, I would do it, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm and financial considerations come into play. I argue that if you look at initial costs it’s more expensive than fresh water, but over the life cycle it would be cheaper. But not everyone at the airport agrees with me.”

Wühle has plans to introduce renewable energy to Munich, but for now the airport’s existing energy supply system does the job in a sustainable and efficient manner.

The airport’s onsite power plant is efficient because it generates both heat and power. The heat produced during power generation is used as an energy source for heating and cooling systems. As a result, the carbon emissions from the plant are around 30,000 tons a year lower than in conventional plants. This equates to the carbon produced by 20,000 automobiles travelling 10,000 km a year. This large amount offsets the entire carbon emissions caused by the 30,000 employees at Munich Airport commuting to work every day.

The power plant is an adequate source of energy for now, but Wühle expects big changes to the airport’s energy policies in the next few years, partly as a result of wider political developments in Germany.

“It’s an interesting time at the moment here in Bavaria,” he said. “Our politicians have changed their fuel source from nuclear to renewables as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. This policy development will influence Munich Airport. In the next two years, I am expecting a lot more projects using wind, water and solar power.”

Fortunately, Munich Airport is well-positioned politically to gain assistance from the regional Government. The head of the airport’s board of directors, Markus Soeder, is a former Bavarian Minister of Environment and Health and is now Finance Minister. “He knows a lot about the environment, as well as about Munich Airport. We will get a lot of useful help and support from him,” said Wühle.

Munich Airport is of great economic importance to the Bavarian economy. It is the third largest airport in Germany and the seventh largest in Europe. It also has a high reputation with passengers. It was named the best airport in Europe in 2011 for the sixth time in the last seven years. The award, which is given by Skytrax, the London-based aviation market-research firm, is based on the assessments of millions of passengers worldwide. Munich’s high standing puts it in the top five airports worldwide.

The Skytrax awards are a source of pride, but they are based on comfort and efficiency and do not really reflect the airport’s behind-the-scenes efforts to tackle emissions. However, here too, the airport wants to be one of the world’s best. Its ambitious target is to achieve carbon-neutral growth by 2020 compared to the baseline year of 2005.

Munich first published details of its carbon footprint in 2008. Its performance was worked out according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) which calculates carbon emissions in three categories known as Scopes. Scope 1 emissions are caused by self-produced energy. Scope 2 emissions are caused indirectly by energy purchased to cover the airport’s requirements. Finally, Scope 3 emissions come from airlines and public transport in the airport’s vicinity. The later is easily the biggest category.

Munich is battling to reduce its emissions in all three Scopes, but achieving carbon-neutral growth by 2020 is a severe challenge because of the airport’s rapid rate of growth. In 2009, there were 32,681,067 passengers, then numbers rose by 6.2% to 34,721,605 in 2010.

The additional two million passengers in 2010 inevitably led to greater energy consumption. But in spite of this challenge, the airport reduced its total Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon output by 3,200 tons. This is an impressive result when one considers that 2010 was a particularly cold year which saw a 10% rise in heating requirements over 2009.

Munich Airport’s carbon challenge became even stiffer last year when there were more steep increases in passenger numbers. Between January and September, the 28.6 million passengers represented a 10% increase on the same period for 2010.

“Our CEO Dr Michael Kerkloh says the 2020 target will be our licence to grow, so we do a lot in both airside and landside to improve energy efficiency in order to meet the targets,” said Wühle.

One of the most effective measures has been the introduction of the Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) process in 2009. Munich was the European pioneer in introducing A-CDM system, which has reduced annual emissions by 8,000 tons. Frankfurt and Schiphol Amsterdam airports were impressed with Munich’s results and have introduced their own A-CDM schemes.

Wühle said: “A-CDM brings together all the processes from airside and landside in one common process. With better communication lines, aircraft can be pushed back onto the runway at the last moment and take off without running engines needlessly. We avoid both traffic jams on the taxiways and wasteful emissions as engines are only turned on when needed.”

In 2010 Munich made an important step forward with energy efficiency improvements to Terminal 2, which reduced power consumption by 5.6%. The cuts amount to a saving of 3.8 gigawatt hours of electricity and 2,200 tons of carbon emissions. Various means were used, including better control of ventilation systems in the baggage transportation and claim areas and the use of environmental lighting in the concourse and outdoor areas.

Since Munich began implementing measures such as these in 2008, it has seen carbon savings of more than 16,000 tons in its airport buildings and installations, and has cut output by around 10,000 tons. Its aim is to remove a further 44,000 tons of carbon emissions through improvements to buildings by 2014.

The airport has an ongoing programme to analyse buildings and installations in detail to find new improvements. The analysis is helped by Munich’s Airport’s membership of the Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), a non-Government body which gives expert advice on green building practice. In collaboration with other airports, Munich Airport’s operating company, FMG, has developed a system called “Terminal,” which enables detailed assessment of terminal buildings’ sustainability. The sophisticated approach takes into account everything from environmental and economic performance to socio-cultural and functional aspects, as well as technology.

Munich hopes to use the “Terminal” system to ensure the large new satellite extension to Terminal 2 has 40% lower CO2 emissions per unit of floor space than Munich’s two existing terminals. The satellite building will have an innovative ventilation system and a special facade design using insulated glass on the outside walls facing the apron areas.

Inside, the satellite will be separated from Terminal 2’s spaces by an additional glass wall which acts as a “climate buffer”. Materials will be used which allow heat entering the satellite building in the daytime to be converted into air-conditioning for the interior.

Its ACI and EMAS certificates demonstrate that Munich Airport is doing a lot to make its new buildings as green as possible, but the ambitious Michael Wühle argues that still more could be done. “I have a lot of other ideas, but there’s always a difficult calculation to make between the initial costs and long-term gains. Not everyone at the airport is willing to calculate over a 30-year period,” he said.

Munich has introduced energy-reduction measures which are specific to airside operations. The TOFU (Telematik und Ortung im Fuhrparkmanagement) telematic system monitors the fleet of vehicles at a distance using GPS navigation.

“TOFU means we can optimise the transport routes for buses and other vehicles, and cut engines using the central computer system if they’ve been running for longer than five minutes. It’s a very efficient system,” Wühle said.

A change to the lighting system on the runway reduced airside electricity usage. “We used to have lights on everywhere on the aprons at night. But now the lights only go on when the aircraft is in position and needs the lights. When there’s nothing going on, it’s dark. This saves a lot of emissions,” said Wühle.

A further plan for airside is to install pre-conditioned air (PCA) units at each terminal’s gate. The units will provide comfort air to parked aircraft, which will allow them to shut off their on-board auxiliary power units. This will have a major impact on ramp noise, congestion, fuel consumption and emissions. “Because the aircrafts can shut off their inefficient CO2 emissions, we will save another 20,000 tons of carbon. PCA units cost a lot, but our calculation is that they will reduce fuel consumption enough to make them efficient for both the airport and airline.”

Munich Airport’s green policies for airside reduce energy use significantly. But Wühle has high hopes of introducing an environmental measure in the next two or three years which would have an even greater impact.

“We hope to be the first airport in Europe to use biofuels for aircraft on an industrial scale,” he said. “We are fortunate in having a redundant fuel pipeline which we can use for biofuel. And the biofuel is readily available from the Jatropha nut tree, which grows in Africa and Asia in desert areas which can’t be used for food production. I’m optimistic we can develop it in the next couple of years. We are planning a demo flight later this year.”

Using biofuels for some aircraft would have a dramatic effect on Munich Airport’s Scope 3 emissions, which account for two thirds of its annual carbon footprint of 650,000 tons.

“The rules for Scope 3 emissions make us responsible for the landing and take-off cycle. We count as our own any emissions under 3,000 feet. If we use biofuel for the domestic fleet of Lufthansa we will reduce our emissions by more than 100,000 tons a year,” Wühle said.

He points out that the technology already exists and is already used by KLM and Air France for some of their domestic flights. In January this year, Lufthansa made the first transatlantic flight (Frankfurt-Washington) with one engine running on biofuel. Munich has joined the Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy (AIREG) and is working with partners such as Lufthansa, Air Berlin and Rolls Royce to make the biofuel plans a reality.

“In the long-term, the ecological and economic will come together and it will pay for Munich Airport to adopt these measures,” said Wühle.