New Glycol Recycling Facility at Syracuse Hancock Int’l Produces Deicing Fluid Certified for Reuse

Jennifer Daack Woolson
Published in: 

Just before Thanksgiving and the traditional start of the 2023/2024 winter holiday travel season, a new glycol recycling facility opened at Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) featuring first-of-its-kind deicing technology for the United States. In addition to recovering and recycling glycol from aircraft deicing operations, the new $19.4 million system significantly enhances the process by producing glycol for reuse at the upstate New York airfield.

SYR Chief Operations Officer Aaron Harris explains that the innovative full-cycle approach shrinks the airport’s CO2 footprint, drastically decreases the need for offsite water treatment, reduces deicing expenses and creates a self-sufficient supply chain for the crucial fluid. Needless to say, Harris is pleased with both categories of green benefits—financial and environmental.

Previously, SYR relied on a pair of 3 million-gallon stormwater holding tanks and an open-pit lagoon. Upwards of 6 million gallons of spent aircraft deicing fluid diluted with snow and rainwater was discharged annually to the county for treatment.


Project: Glycol Recover, Recycle
& Reuse Facility

Location: Syracuse Hancock Int’l Airport

Key Point of Difference: System produces certified aircraft deicing fluid for use at airport

Size: 280,000 sq. ft.

Total Cost: $19.3 million

Funding: Aeromag, via Design, Finance, Build & Operate Agreement

Project Timeline: Permitting began Jan. 2023, construction began March 2023, facility commissioned Nov. 2023

Facility Owner/Operator: Aeromag

Design Build Contractor: Burns & McDonnell

Glycol Recycling Equipment: Vilokan ADF Solutions

Deicing Material Handling & Storage: Spent aircraft deicing fluid is collected on 3 deicing pads, pumped across airfield & into 4 million-gallon tanks

Recycling/Reuse: 5-step process refines runoff fluid then uses evaporation & distillation to produce glycol for new aircraft deicing fluid

Glycol Production Capacity: Up to 550,000 gallons of AMS 1424 Type I propylene deicing fluid/year

Estimated CO2 Reduction: 16.5 million lbs.

Water Implications: 5-7 million gallons of water previously sent offsite for treatment can now be reused at airport for gray water purposes

Of Note: 1st on-airport full-cycle glycol recycling facility in U.S.; world’s 1st airport glycol recycling evaporator capable of treating runoff with as low as 0.25% glycol concentration

Support Equipment: Glycol recovery vehicle from Bucher Municipal; Elephant e-BETA electric deicing vehicle from Vestergaard Co.

The new facility, financed and managed by Aeromag, is known as an RRR system—which stands for recover, recycle, reuse. In short, runoff collected from three pads at SYR’s centralized deicing facility is processed by equipment from Vilokan ADF Solutions, a Swedish company that specializes in the innovation of environmental technology.

Aeromag is a worldwide company that focuses on deicing and glycol recycling, and also prides itself for an internal culture of innovation.

Gabriel Lépine, executive vice president of Operations and Development at Aeromag, notes that conversations about developing the cutting-edge facility began during the 2020 COVID lockdown. “We heard that Syracuse Airport was looking for ideas about potential courses of action for their contaminated stormwater instead of sending it to the local wastewater treatment center,” he recalls. “We already started working with our partners Burns & McDonnell and Vilokan on the recycling system. So when the opportunity presented itself, we all got together and started designing the intricate system and ended up being awarded the project [via a request for proposals process]. And now, two and a half years later, we are extremely proud of the progress and accomplishment of the system.”

The project was intriguing to Harris as well. “I understood [the RRR process] was happening around the globe, and I wanted to explore the options for us to have a closed-loop system here at Syracuse.”

Revolutionary Approach

Glycol recovery is nothing new, but the facility at SYR takes the concept even further with a five-step approach that creates new deicing fluid:

  1. A low-concentration evaporator refines collected glycol runoff fluid from 0.25% to 10% glycol concentration.
  2. The glycol is filtered to remove thickeners and residue from oil and fuel.
  3.  A second evaporator processes the filtered 10% fluid up to 50% glycol concentration.
  4. A distillation process separates out the remaining water to take the fluid to 99.5% glycol.
  5. The recycled fluid is blended with a proprietary additive pack from an AMS 1424-certified Type I deicing fluid to recertify it for use on aircraft.

Lépine highlights the system’s ability to treat effluent with as little as 0.25% glycol concentration at the high speed of 2,500 gallons per hour. In comparison, the older system could treat roughly 5% concentration in about 250 gallons per hour. “It’s a big advantage to reduce it to that low concentration level because in the Northeast when you experience freezing rain or heavy wet snow, you always have a really large volume of water with a little bit of glycol at a low concentration,” he explains. “You need to be able to treat that volume really quickly. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to hold all of that water.”

Previously, runoff with less than 3% glycol concentration was unable to be treated, he adds.

David Schueler, chief executive officer of The Americas for Vilokan ADF Solutions, notes that low concentration glycol recycling technology is currently only available from Vilokan.

On the environmental front, Harris reports that SYR’s new facility has the potential to save 5.5 million to 7 million gallons of water and reduce CO2 output by 3 million to 6 million kilograms per year.

In addition to being the world’s largest aircraft deicing propylene glycol recycling facility, it is also the first low concentration closed-loop system, he reports proudly. “We’re not putting any smoke out into the air. All the heat that’s generated from the system is contained within it.”

Vilokan uses its own integration software to provide the highest operational efficiency and lowest power usage in the industry, notes Schueler.

Capacity to Spare

In addition to delivering noteworthy ecological benefits, the new glycol management facility saves SYR money by reducing the airport’s cost for discharging runoff to the local wastewater treatment center. But that’s just one of its financial advantages.

“The real benefit to the airlines is the price,” says SYR Chief Commercial Officer Jason Mehl. “The glycol is being resold at a discount to the airlines, because the cost was already realized when it was originally purchased.”

The recycled and refined glycol is sold to airlines operating at SYR at about 10% below market rate. And based on the airport’s average flight volume, it is expected to only use about half of the RRR facility’s potential 500,000-gallon capacity. Mehl reports that Aeromag is already talking with other airports in upstate New York to offer SYR’s treatment plant for recycling their collected glycol, too.

“In partnership with the airport, we decided to make this system bigger. That would allow regional airports to send their glycol to Syracuse Airport instead of sending it to wastewater treatment centers,” Lépine explains. “This reduces their treatment charges and makes the system closer to carbon neutral.”

It also helps ensure that airports in the area will have enough deicing fluid for winter operations—even when hurricanes and other weather systems upset the supply of propylene glycol manufactured in the Gulf region.

“It’s no surprise that climate change impacts everyone,” Lépine says. “Being able to recycle on site provides a security, because [SYR] won’t have to rely as much on the usual supply chain. They have their own production of propylene glycol locally, making winter travel safer and greener.”

Partnerships and Challenges

The physical structure for the RRR system was designed and built by Burns & McDonnell.

Key components included foundations, service connections, fiberglass and polyurethane tanks, pumps, piping and a 3,500-square-foot building that houses the specialized equipment for filtration, evaporation, distillation and other RRR processes.

Skye Coleman, glycol and ramp services manager for Burns & McDonnell, notes that swampy land adjacent to the construction site posed unique challenges. “Because those marshlands are a protected area, we had to watch our encroachment as well as make sure—since this is also the main outfall for all airport stormwater to progress through—not to impact any of the existing airport operations,” he explains. Initial surveys, permission for temporary encroachment and best management practices for maintaining a safe and clean work site helped the team avoid any environmental issues, Coleman adds.

Thanks to strategic construction staging, the low-content evaporator was up and running in August 2023, three months before the rest of the facility. “That allowed SYR to continue to store some of the collected glycol fluid from the previous season in their tanks,” Coleman explains. “This is the first low-content evaporator that has been used for aviation glycol recycling in the entire world. It’s able to take fluid from as low as 0.25% glycol in the water and cycle it up to 10% before it goes through another evaporator to start the second stage.”

Collaboration and Expertise Expedited Construction

The new facility was completed in fall 2023, before the region received its first heavy snowfall. From initial design to full operation took just 18 months.

Coleman describes the permitting and approval process for the project as a huge team effort. When the team started design and crews began construction, permitting authorities weren’t back to full speed after COVID stand-downs. Nevertheless, “we were able to work and progress at a speed that allowed us to get started on site in the timeframe we were hoping for,” he reports.

In addition, setting up the low-content evaporator early helped accelerate the pace of the rest of the project. “Although the main goal of that was to allow the airport to have additional room to plan for the next season, it also allowed Aeromag to come onto an active construction site and have full access to an area where they could take ownership and work on existing equipment,” Coleman explains. “Meanwhile, Burns & McDonnell and our subcontractors were able to maintain the rest of the work that needed to be done in a timely manner. It really took all the different organizations working together in order to make sure that happened.”

Lépine found the industry expertise of all the major players impressive—and incredibly valuable. “We are really thankful to the airport for providing the key people on the ground who know the airport from A to Z and could answer our questions and provide feedback on our design so we could make the most efficient and effective system,” he says. “And that goes to our partners Vilokan and Burns & McDonnell, as well.

“No matter the construction, no matter the operations, there will always be challenges,” Lépine adds. “But when there is such strong teamwork between all parties, we will solve these challenges really, really quickly and efficiently.”

Aeromag is also thrilled about the advanced technology that allows its team in Canada and the Vilokan team in Sweden to monitor and troubleshoot the system in New York 24/7. This allows them to help the on-site team at SYR keep everything running smoothly, emphasizes Lépine.

The airport’s new closed-loop glycol recycling facility opened just before the busy Thanksgiving travel weekend.
The airport’s new closed-loop glycol recycling facility opened just before the busy Thanksgiving travel weekend.

Looking Toward the Future

The 18-month facility development and smooth first winter at SYR are success stories Lépine hopes to replicate. In fact, Aeromag is currently working with Canadian airports and several in the United States on similar systems that will recycle collected glycol into new aircraft deicing fluid.

Lépine sees the growing interest as an important shift for the industry and credits SYR with being the “trigger airport” to get the positive environmental trend underway. “Two and a half years ago, they knew that there were other solutions out there, so they really believed quickly in the RRR system and in the process,” he remarks. “But now it’s turning heads around. Many, many airports want to be able to go greener, and this process has great ecological impact.”

Adding to the system, Aeromag provided SYR with a glycol recovery vehicle from Bucher Municipal that vacuums higher-concentration glycol off the airport’s three deicing pads. The new equipment separates that glycol and runs it through the system with fewer steps, thus saving time. The airport is also slated to receive an Elephant e-BETA electric deicing vehicle from Vestergaard Company, which will further enhance sustainability of the whole operation as it continues to grow.

Although the new facility was designed to accommodate future growth, that is proving to be a moving target. Harris notes that the project team opted to upgrade the size of the facility after the project because passenger projections are up between 15% and 20%. “It seems to be a reoccurring trend,” Mehl comments. “And we are beating our projections each and every month right now.”


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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