Science - May 19, 2010

Knowledge lab to make Schiphol sustainable

Schiphol wants to become the most sustainable airport in the world. Wageningen UR can help in a newly set-up research lab.

Aalt Dijkhuizen and directors of TU Delft, TNO and Schiphol Airport jointly opened the research lab in the airport.
A new research lab for a sustainable airport was opened last week in Schiphol by Aalt Dijkhuizen and other directors. Schiphol wants to switch from fossil fuels to bio-energy, reduce carbon dioxide emission, solve the water problems around the airport, and re-use waste streams.  Researchers from various knowledge institutions will be in Schiphol to look for solutions for a sustainable airport, using chiefly biobased and spatial knowledge. Wageningen UR, TU Delft, TNO, Imtech and Schiphol Airport will pool their knowledge in an incubator process. Vincent Kuypers of Alterra will work one day in the week in Schiphol.
'The incubator is an environment for networking', says Kuypers. However, each participant will also be present in the airport to do his part. Five researchers from TU Delft, five from TNO, fifteen from consultant agency Imtech and probably five from Wageningen will work together on one floor of the Outlook building in the airport. Schiphol Airport has been researching for some time into the disintegration process of the commonly used substance glycol, which Schiphol uses to keep its planes frost-free. Process technologist RenĂ© Wijffels has been asked to find out if this substance can be broken down by algae, which he can also use to produce bio-energy. In this, he will be joined by his colleague Cees Buisman who has developed various new techniques to extract energy from waste streams. The research work can also be linked to another project undertaken by the waste processing  group of Van Ganzewinkel, which wants to re-use the waste streams in Schiphol according to the cradle-to-cradle concept.
'These are multidisciplinary projects involving several partners', says Kuypers. He will set up the spatial dimension of the plans. 'Schiphol has a lot of space, with some four thousand hectares of land in its possession. About 10 to 15 percent of this has been built up, while the rest is agricultural land bordering the runways. This land is now rented out to farmers.'  Kuypers expects this 'agropark' to develop in such a way that farms can store more carbon dioxide in their crops. He hopes to graduate with a PhD degree in 'airport city development' and will be working in the incubator for a day every week.
Kuypers has been in contact with Schiphol Airport regularly for three years. 'Some time ago, I gave a talk on the cradle-to-cradle concept in area development. This had impressed those at Schiphol. While they were previously concerned about  the technology only, they are now taking an interest in the attitude which goes with sustainable development.' The incubator has to generate new research projects. 'The participants have pooled their money to rent the work premises, while a mainport development fund has earlier been set up using research funds. I was brought into this via the Knowledge for Climate programme. We hope to set up new projects in which companies such as DSM, Shell and the Port of Rotterdam will take part.'