De-ice, recycle, reuse: Portland Jetport sets a sustainable pace

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PORTLAND — Southwest Air Flight 544 to Baltimore was delayed about an hour Jan. 17, but it was not leaving the Portland International Jetport without making one more stop.

As snow swirled through the air and plows cleared runways, the plane rolled to a concrete pad outside the Inland Technologies International plant on Jetport Boulevard.

For about 15 minutes, crews in four Northeast Air trucks sprayed propylene glycol and heated air on the plane from cockpits hoisted above the trucks.

But the de-icing fluid did not just drain away. It was recaptured, part of a Jetport master plan for sustainable operations.

“We are the first airport in the entire country to have a closed-loop de-icing system,”  Adam Thurlow, Inland site operations manager, said.

The concrete pad was cleared by what Thurlow called a “GlyVac,” a tanker truck with an 1,800-gallon tank to hold water and other fluids sucked from the surface.

Under the pad is a 500,000 gallon storage tank to hold what escapes the truck.

Inland also uses processing tanks just off Jetport Boulevard. A two-phase breakdown and distillation process refines the propylene glycol to a reusable product, and does it so well the plant also completes recycling processes for airports in Hartford, Connecticut; Newark, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., Thurlow said.

Thurlow said the process cost Inland $2 million for buildings and equipment.

Considered safer than ethylene glycol, propylene glycol is used in antifreeze, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food production, as well as aviation. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said it is “generally considered to be a safe chemical,” but it does deplete oxygen in water before it breaks down.

Bradbury said water recaptured during the distillation process is disposed of per an agreement with the city.

Cold and winter storms can mean an average of 30 outbound flights per day need de-icing. The surfaces need to be completely cleared, and how long that takes depends on weather conditions or how long the aircraft has been sitting idle, Thurlow said.

Before the expansion and pad construction at Inland, de-icing was done at the departure gate.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Southwest Air Flight 544 id de-iced Jan. 17 at the Portland International Jetport by Northeast Air crews. The de-icing fluid is recaptured and recycled by Inland Technologies.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.