FedEx & Cryotech Partner to Develop Greener Deicing Fluid for Cargo Ops at Memphis Int'l

Ronnie Garrett
Published in: 

Some say it takes a village to raise a child. Along the same lines, it took an airport, a product manufacturer and a delivery service giant to decrease the environmental impact of aircraft deicing operations at the busiest cargo airport in the United States.  

The negative impacts of deicing fluids on bodies of water, particularly smaller streams receiving water runoff, are well documented. Concerns include low oxygen conditions; issues with waterbody color, odor and foam; fish kill events; damaged aquatic communities and the widespread absence of aquatic life. 

Memphis International Airport (MEM), Cryotech Deicing Technology and FedEx all take such problems seriously. Together, they recently devised a way to create and deploy a more environmentally friendly aircraft deicer-in short, keeping planes safe in a more sustainable way.

Project: Using New Environmental Aircraft Deicer
Location: Memphis (TN) Int'l Airport
Goal: Reducing Negative Impact on Local Water Resources
Customer: FedEx
Strategy: Procure deicing fluid with 50% lower fluid toxicity
Resulting Product: Polar PLUS LT
Product Mfr: Cryotech Deicing Technology, a div. of General Atomics Int'l Services Corp. 
Product Characteristics: Low aquatic toxicity & lowest operational use temperature with excellent wetting/low foaming properties; certified by EPA & FAA; meets SAE Int'l AMS1424 Aircraft Deicing/Anti-Icing standard. 
Product Testing Results: 123% survival improvement for water fleas; 396% improvement for fathead minnows

Each night, FedEx processes 1.2 to 1.6 million packages at its "super hub" at MEM. It also sends 150 to 200 jets into the skies every half-hour. Throughout the past several years, the company has taken numerous steps to decrease the environmental impact of its operations at MEM and around the world. The company has greened its packaging; reduced fuel consumption by upgrading its aircraft and delivery vehicles; and built all of its new facilities according to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines. 

With these efforts already in play, greening airside operations at its bustling MEM hub seemed like a logical next step. When concerns arose about the impact of deicing fluid on local water resources, FedEx's sourcing team challenged manufacturers of this operationally crucial fluid to develop a more environmentally sensitive product. The company used an exacting request for proposal (RFP) with strong environmental standards to issue the challenge. It leveraged support from suppliers by guaranteeing them a two-year extension on a three-year contract to supply deicing fluid if they developed a new product with equal performance but 50% lower fluid toxicity for use in the fourth and fifth years of the contract. 

Cryotech Deicing Technology, which was already supplying aircraft deicer to FedEx at approximately 100 U.S. airports, rose to the challenge. Actually, the task was right up Cryotech's alley, as it specializes in producing acetate-based products, because acetates are readily biodegradable and exhibit low toxicity to vegetation and aquatic life. 

"As a major manufacturer and supplier of aircraft deicing fluids, we are acutely aware of our responsibility to recognize shifting market conditions and respond to customer needs," says Craig Starwalt, the company's president and chief executive. "Opportunities to improve our environmental profile have always been a key research and development metric. This, coupled with input from a top customer, cemented our decision to commit to the development of what is now Polar Plus LT." 

The new product not only meets FedEx's environmental requirements, it also dovetails nicely with the MEM's green goals. The busy airport, which serves 3.8 million passengers and moves 9.5 billion pounds of cargo every year, highlights environmentalism in its mission statement: "To follow and to promote good sustainability practices, to reduce the environmental impacts of all our activities and to help our partners to do the same. Our commitment to sustainability is and will continue to be one of the primary focuses for our airport."

Lori Morris, manager of environmental services for MEM, explains the airport's position: "The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority [which operates MEM] works closely with all our airline partners encouraging the use of new technology and equipment to reduce impacts to the environment. Maintaining compliance with environmental regulations is a priority at MEM, and that only comes from being good stewards of our community and the environment."

Morris acknowledges but doesn't accept commonly raised counterpoints for taking action on environmental initiatives. "The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority knows the importance of keeping our airline partners and passengers safe and on time," she says. "We also strive each day to be more sustainable than the last."

She also stresses the partnership and cooperative spirit the airport has with its largest tenant. "MEM has invested countless hours and dedicated significant financial resources to improving our deicing/anti-icing program," she notes. "FedEx has been a leader at MEM in implementing new sustainable technologies regarding deicing/anti-icing operations."

Starwalt considers the challenge that FedEx issued to Cryotech and other manufacturers a win/win. "FedEx's RFP pushed us in the direction we were trying to go but hadn't really established. In the collaboration that resulted, we both helped each other," he explains. "We started doing something for environmental reasons, and ended up creating a better product."

What's the Difference?
In short, chemists and technicians at Cryotech developed a Type I deicing/anti-icing that proved less harmful to aquatic ecosystems. As they explain it, Polar PLUS LT combines extremely low aquatic toxicity and lowest operational use temperature (LOUT) with excellent wetting and low foaming properties (which aid in visual contamination checks). In fact, the product offers the lowest LOUT in the industry for propylene glycol-based fluid:-27.4°F at a 63% Polar Plus LT/37% water dilution, reports Tschudi (Judi) Dinwiddie, the company's associate marketing coordinator. 

The product also offers the lowest aquatic toxicity of any propylene glycol-based fluid in the industry, adds Dinwiddie, explaining that this reduces its environmental impact on storm water runoff. In addition, the fluid is triazole-free, does not include nonylphenol ethoxylate surfactants and is readily biodegradable.

Not containing triazole and nonylphenol ethoxylate surfactants is key to the product's environmental profile. "The primary challenge for improving Type I's toxicity profile was to find ingredients that had a favorable toxicity profile, while maintaining performance equal to or greater than the current Type I fluid, Cryotech Polar Plus," says Dinwiddie. "This was a difficult task as many key ingredients that provide the optimum performance (for wetting, spreading, foaming, etc.) have the most detrimental effect on aquatic organisms."

The Cryotech team selected alternatives based on knowledge gleaned from ecological and biological toxicity studies, she explains. The resulting formula succeeded in meeting the standards of FedEx, EPA, FAA and the Society of Automotive Engineers International. (In addition to manufacturing deicers for aircraft and runways, Cryotech also supplies products for highways and other commercial applications.) 

Specifically, product trials revealed 123% improvement in survival rates for water fleas, and 396% improvement for fathead minnows. FedEx, in turn, recognized significant potential benefit to all aquatic life.

"Polar Plus LT exhibited 100+/-percent water toxicity improvements," notes Dinwiddie. 

Last winter, select Cyrotech customers tested the product in a large-scale trial and lauded the improved formula for its ease of use, environmental characteristics and overall performance, she reports. They also praised the fluid's wetting and low foaming properties for facilitating easier handling and even dispersal and aiding visual contamination checks. 

Moving Forward
Following the trials, FedEx duly extended its contract to Cryotech, and the company is rolling out Polar Plus LT to all of the FedEx locations it supplies. 

The environmental benefits of the new product could eventually spread industrywide, as Cryotech is offering it to all airline purchasers in time for the upcoming deicing season. With nearly 45 of the 50 busiest U.S. airports located near bodies of water, the impact could potentially be substantial.

Josh Kurtz, a FedEx sourcing adviser, considers the new deicing fluid a great example of business-vs. governmental policy-driving positive change. 

Dinwiddie, in turn, sees it as the manifestation of Cryotech's mantra about "making customers' problems go away." 


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