Portland Jetport Uses VALE Grant for Geothermal System

Thomas G. Dolan
Published in: 


Project: Geothermal System

Cost: $3 million

Funding: $2.5 million VALE grant

Oil Consumption Reduction:

50,000+ gallons/year

Associated Annual Savings: $160,000

Architect: Gensler

Geothermal System: National Geothermal

Engineering: Damon Mechanical

Contractor: Turner Construction

Civil/Structural/MEP Engineering: Amec Earth & Environmental

Geotechnical Engineering & Geothermal Design: Haley & Aldrich


A new geothermal heating and cooling system is one of the crown jewels of a recent $75 million terminal expansion at Portland International Jetport in Maine. The project was a creative first in the industry, because the airport used an FAA Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) grant to fund $2.5 million of the $3 million project. Typically, FAA has awarded VALE grants for the purchase of hybrid carts or the electrification of ground equipment.

The geothermal project was a compatible fit for Portland Jetport, because the airport takes an environmentally conscious approach to serving an area that emphasizes its outdoor beauty and recreation options. (The entire state of Maine markets itself as "Vacationland.")

As a city-owned building, all of the airport's renovations and new construction were required to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards, per a green building ordinance enacted by Portland in 2009. Airport officials, however, decided to pursue an even higher standard for the most highly visible city-owned building.

 "We started out aiming for the LEED Silver certification," explains airport director Paul Bradbury. "Now we're going for the Gold (under LEED v2.2.)"

Making it Happen

Bradbury is the person credited for reconciling the airport's geothermal project with established VALE criteria. "The city council has always been progressive in terms of sustainable design, and I've long looked toward a geothermal system as a way to go," says Bradbury. "So when the VALE opportunity arose, we seized it."

However, he cautions other airports that VALE funds are not simply granted on the basis of a good idea. "It's not enough to just file for a grant," Bradbury explains. "We had to spend considerable money to do all of the research and advance testing to demonstrate the project would work as promised."

In other words, there was risk involved. If its VALE application had been denied, the airport would have been out $300,000 to $500,000 in preliminary expenses.

Designs for a conventional heating and cooling system were also made, but the airport held off purchasing traditional equipment until it heard back about funding for a geothermal system. "Had the VALE applications been denied, we would have had to go with our original plan," Bradbury recalls. He credits the design and construction teams for helping the airport secure a VALE grant.

Inside the System

Lead architect Jim Stanislaski, AIA, LEED AP, says the airport's geothermal system is like a giant battery buried deep beneath the ground that helps maintain a constant temperature within the terminal. "The building will inject heat into the ground during the summer and take heat out of the ground in the winter," explains the Gensler associate. "This results in significant energy savings."

The geothermal system built at Portland Jetport is Maine's largest, with nearly 23 miles of high-density polyethylene piping and 120 ground wells that reach up to 500 feet deep. The system moves up to 475 gallons of water per minute with a 125-horsepower pump. Under normal operation, it takes approximately 30 minutes for water to complete a round trip to the farthest well.

The energy efficiencies provided by the geothermal system outside the terminal are complemented by the use of low-energy radiant-heated flooring inside.

Projected Returns

Like many buildings in New England, the airport burns No. 2 fuel oil for almost all of its heating. The new geothermal system is designed to reduce the facility's oil consumption by more than 50,000 gallons per year, reports Bradbury. Based on conservative estimates of this year's heating oil prices, the airport expects to save more than $160,000 per year. Although VALE criteria only address energy savings related to heating, the energy required for air conditioning the terminal will be reduced as well.

According to Stanislaski, the system will prevent the emission of 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide and .9 tons of nitrogen oxide per year. Although the overall system's expected lifespan is 40 years, the well field should be productive much longer, he predicts.

For information on the glycol recycling system used at Portland Jetport, see page 30 of our September 2011 issue.

Terminal Expansion Stresses Sustainable Design

A 160,000-square-foot expansion that effectively doubles the terminal size at Portland International Jetport and increases the airport's environmental quotient is scheduled to open in October.

The $75 million project includes a $10 million automated baggage hand


Project: Terminal Expansion

Cost: $75 million

Architect: Gensler

Engineering: Deluca-Hoffman

Contractor: Turner Construction Civil/Structural/MEP

Engineering: Amec Earth & Environmental

Geotechnical Engineering & Geothermal Design:

Haley & Aldrich

Baggage Handling Systems Design: BNP Associates

Fire Protection Systems:

Fire Risk Management

Architectural Lighting:

Fisher Marantz Stone

Paging Systems/Acoustics Consulting:  Shen Milsom

& Wilke

ling system, a new ticketing hall and ticketing offices, six passenger lanes at the screening checkpoint, departure lounges and concessions upgrades that feature locally produced products such as fruits and lobster.

A new connection to the third level of the existing parking garage will enable passengers to enter the terminal directly at the security checkpoint.

Gensler, a former U.S. Green Building Council Leadership Award winner, infused many design features that apply to the council's LEED certification program.

Site work, for instance, included relocating an entrance roadway and reconfiguring parking lots to sheet water flow into two infiltration ponds designed to strict state standards. The strategy reduced site disturbance and eliminated the need for materials such as high-embodied energy ductile iron pipe and catch basins for a structured underground drainage system. The associated water savings are accentuated by native drought-tolerant plants that don't require irrigation.


Only eight new surface parking spaces were added for the terminal expansion, and preferred parking was provided for carpool and low-emission vehicles. Bike racks, changing rooms and showers were included to help encourage workers to commute to work on bicycles. The showers, along with other water-efficient elements, are designed to use 44% less water than standard fixtures.

Although it didn't boost the project's LEED score, Gensler selected some materials based on the environmental detriments of other options. For example, polished concrete floor slabs replace terrazzo, saving the production, transportation and greenhouse gas emissions of cement and marble-based terrazzo. The roof structure of the large ticketing hall and screening checkpoint are exposed and do not contain acoustical ceiling tile.

Sealants and carpeting materials were used sparingly. When they were needed, designers specified low-VOC products to preserve the terminal's indoor air quality. In addition, Turner Construction monitored air quality to ensure that ductwork remained free of contaminants.

Electrical indoor lighting is automatically reduced based on natural light levels. This, along with the careful selection of lighting fixtures, resulted in less heating load and more energy savings, reports lead architect Jim Stanislaski.

Materials not normally found in commercial airport terminals such as laminated wood roof decking were selected to reinforce Maine's connection to the natural environment and add a warm aesthetic, he adds. Laminated structural timbers certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council were used on the large roof that spans from the screening checkpoint to the concourse.

Overall, more than 35% of the building materials used were recycled products, which helps reduce demand on new resources and encourages the development of recycled products. More than 20% of the building materials were manufactured locally, which reduced the environmental impact of transporting materials from farther away. Finally, more than 90% of the waste generated by the construction was recycled.

The expansion, however, was not only about environmental gains. It was also designed to help the airport meet projected demand: 1.26 million annual enplanements by 2015, up from 862,000 in 2009.





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