World’s first ‘eco airport’ is up and running in the Galapagos; uses non-toxic materials, less energy

Feb 6, 2013 | 0 comments

By Alejandro Morales

The Galapagos Islands, home to unique species that led Charles Darwin to establish his Theory of Evolution, continue to evolve with the world’s first environmentally friendly airport.

The new airport is on the island of Baltra and required an investment of US$24 million. It began receiving tourists in December.

A total of 180,000 visitors came to the islands in 2012, according to the Galapagos National Park Service. An average of 11,200 passengers arrived each month at the airport run by Ecogal, which built and manages the new terminal.

The project, which was developed by specialists from England and Argentina, centers on an environmentally friendly design for the terminal, according to Ezequiel Barrenechea, the president of Galapagos Ecological Airport.

“The design takes into account the island’s breezes and natural light, among other factors,” said Barrenechea, who’s also the executive officer for Latin America and the Caribbean at Corporación América, an Argentine company that was awarded the 15-year airport concession, and Ecogal, its Ecuadoran subsidiary.

In addition, the building was designed based on bioclimatic architectural concepts so it can operate with minimal energy consumption.

These characteristics will allow the terminal to be certified under the private non-profit U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) strictest standards for sustainable architecture and development.

The building covers 6,000 square meters (64,583 square feet), which is three times larger than the old air terminal, while requiring 30% less potable water than a building of the same size with conventional plumbing.

Each of the coating materials used (paint, solvents, etc.) features low emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), which are gases and vapors that pollute the environment.

The final phase of construction includes the installation of a power generation system along the sides of the tarmac. The 356 solar panels will be installed using materials from the demolition of the old terminal and they will provide 50% of the new terminal’s energy. The rest of the electricity needed will come from hybrid generators, which run on diesel and other solar panels.

“When the wind power comes online [at the end of 2013], we will be using 100% renewable energy,” said Jorge Rosillo, the manager of the Galapagos Ecological Airport.

Due to the lack of fresh water sources on the island of Baltra, Ecogal built a desalination plant in Caleta Aeolin. The new plant takes in seawater for desalination and purification, which is then transported by tanker to the airport.

The terminal also has a sewage plant that employs the latest technology. According to Barrenechea, once the wastewater has been treated, it is completely free of impurities and is released back into the ocean from which it was taken.

For climate control within the airport terminal, Ecogal implemented a natural cooling system featuring large windows equipped with screens to prevent the entry of birds and lizards.

There are also smart shutters, which are activated automatically based on the temperature and the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) that accumulates in the terminal. A sensor detects the concentrations of CO2 and the heat emanating from a large number of people in a specified area, activating the shutters, which allow more breezes into the airport.

Special industrial fans, installed in the upper levels, help circulate the air let in by the shutters to the more densely congested areas of the airport, which are the check-in counters and immigration checkpoints.

For enclosed areas such as airline offices and computer rooms, the airport has a motor that circulates air and water.

The air circulation system relies on a small piece of equipment to inject cool air into the airport’s main space and offices, as fans push the air throughout the airport, reducing the temperature.

“The terminal design maximizes the use of sunlight, given that the airport operates during the day [from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. local time], which reduces the use of electricity,” said Barrenechea.

Though the lighting does not feature the same automation as the ventilation system, the airport staff has been trained to operate the skylights’ blinds by computer to direct light toward the check-in counters and other specific areas.

Due to the energy savings, Rosillo said the company plans to register the airport’s carbon footprint once it has become fully operational. Until then, it’s impossible to estimate the energy being saved.

Airport operations

The shopping areas and food court aren’t ready yet because the builders hope to use 50% of the material from the old terminal, which started to be demolished in January.

Other debris from the old airport will be used as filler for septic tanks, given the area will form part of the airport apron.

The rest of the construction waste will be shipped to mainland Ecuador.

The next phase of construction involves a full resurfacing of the apron and runway with a layer of concrete that is 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) thick.

Argentine tourist Sandra Taiana, who arrived at the Galapagos Islands on Jan. 11, said the new airport fit within the framework of the islands and reflected their significance as an ecological example for all of humanity.

“Though the building is larger than the old terminal, there isn’t anything in excess. The most striking features are the little penguin designs on the floor,” Taiana said.

Credit.; Photo caption: The new airport at Baltra.


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