Denver International Airport is unique.
From the architecture to the natural lighting, and from the head-scratching sculptures to the scores of strange murals, DIA is a Midwest hub home to thousands of travelers, massive infrastructure, and yes, even conspiracy theories.
DIA is also the fifth-busiest airport in the United States and hosted roughly 52.5 million passengers in 2013 alone (approximately 143,000 per day), according to the company site. What many of the passengers may not realize is the prominence of natural gas in the Mountain Time Zone’s busiest destination.
When you arrive at DIA this winter season, you’ll be greeted by the voice of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning when you board the terminal train. Manning, in his usual, Southern, cordial way, will declare, “Welcome to the Mile High City,” and name the next destination. However, the four-time NFL MVP won’t reveal that the train you’re riding is powered by natural gas.
After retrieving your luggage, which was shuttled from the plane to the terminal by a CNG-powered cart, you’ll leave the heated concourse – also a product of compressed natural gas. En route to leaving the 5.5 million square foot airport, you may also see large commuter buses and service SUVs emblazoned with a DIA logo. Those, too, are powered by natural gas.
In all, natural gas reduces emissions by as much as 39%, reports say. The airport uses 221 natural gas vehicles and has plans to add as many as 50 more. CNG use began when the airport opened in 1995, and the fueling station offers a payback period of seven years.
Quietly, other airports are also partaking in the natural gas movement. CNG Now reports hubs like Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle-Tacoma, Houston and Mineta-San Jose have adopted CNG vehicles for each city’s entire fleet.
CNG and LNG stations are traditionally difficult to commercialize because of the scarcity of such vehicles. Centralizing an airport fleet for CNG is a very feasible alternative to the traditional form of diesel and gasoline. In addition to drastically reducing emissions, the alternative fuel also saves DIA about $136,000 per year.
The use of LNG continues to spread to more travel-intensive industries. Shipping companies like UPS and FedEx are installing CNG stations for their trailers, while General Electric has been experimenting with LNG-powered locomotives.
A 2012 Case Study Analysis commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office said, “DIA has demonstrated that CNG fueling Infrastructure at a transportation hub can drive CNG vehicle purchases and use. It is reasonable to expect that other clusters of fleet s can have similar results if they implement CNG, albeit at smaller scales. Co-locating public CNG stations with private fueling stations can occur in a variety of different applications—not just airports. Any location with a convergence of fleets could represent a good opportunity for CNG deployment (county government, airports, waste management, cement delivery, etc.).”
The airport plans on converting more vehicles to natural gas in the future, as long as its infrastructure buildout progresses. Funds to accompany its growing LNG fleet will come from oil and gas production royalties, which contributed $6.2 million to the state in 2013. An oil boom is underway just north of DIA in Weld County, and residents are cashing in on its development. According to a study from the University of Colorado, “The Colorado oil and gas industry contributed substantial public revenues in 2012—totaling nearly $1.6 billion, of which $1 billion was derived directly from severance taxes, public leases, public royalties and property taxes.”
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