Digital twin tech helps Brussels Airport refine net zero plans

A UK climate tech firm’s digital twin technology is helping a European international airport to model and develop its strategies to decarbonise operations; a first for the technology and the aviation sector.

Brussels Airport Company’s initial target was to reach net zero by 2050, but the digital twin technology provide by Glasgow-based IES is said to have demonstrated the potential for the airport’s buildings to reach net zero emissions by 2030 – a significant acceleration.

The airport is regarded as one of the most important in Europe. Last year, it welcomed 22.2 million passengers, and 701,000 tonnes of cargo passed through it.

Spread over 1,250ha, the single-terminal international airport employs over 24,000 people, and has three runways.

IES created a digital replica of the 40 most energy-intensive buildings at Brussels Airport before modelling scenarios such as installing solar PV, EV chargers, and electrifying heating to find the most effective routes to net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The next stage was rigorous modelling; IES simulated the airport’s plan to cut emissions across its buildings through various energy-saving measures, including replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, and installing solar PV on site.

In doing so, it was able to verify the potential for up to 63% CO2 savings against the 2019 baseline year through these measures.

The modelling is said to have demonstrated that the airport’s plan offers a robust decarbonisation pathway. As such, Brussels Airport is now further deploying zero-carbon energy solutions over the next six years.

It is also committed to investing in additional renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to make it less dependent on external energy providers. It’s claimed this means the airport can be carbon free by the end of this decade.

Giulia Barbano, R&D operations manager at IES, said: “To reach net zero, we must take a holistic approach, and in this particular industry, decarbonising buildings can help us make a positive intervention.

“Airports operate across vast space, demand large amounts of power, and experience complex energy interactions. Making any operational change is no small feat and such decisions must be backed by evidence. That’s where digital twin technology can be a game-changer. Before deploying extensive, zero-carbon solutions, airports must first test their effects on energy, cost, and carbon savings – both before installation and during live operation.

“This project is a world-first and demonstrates the effectiveness of digital twin technology in determining the future of complex sites like airports. We are proud to be a partner in this cutting-edge initiative and to work with the great team at Brussels Airport to make a positive long-term impact.”


This flagship project is being delivered as part of the major EU-funded Stargate initiative, which received a €24.8m grant from the European Green Deal to develop concrete solutions to improve the sustainability of airports and aviation.

Brussels Airport is taking a leading role in the Stargate project, which is being implemented alongside a consortium of 21 partners, including airports in Athens, Budapest, and Toulouse. These are also collaborating with IES to develop digital twins to support their decarbonisation goals.

The project marks a significant step up from the current use of digital twin technology at airports, where it has most commonly been used in experiments to optimise commercial operations.

The collaboration with Brussels Airport through Stargate will be one of the first examples of digital twins being deployed for decarbonisation modelling at full scale at an airport.

Christel Vandenhouten, head of sustainable development, at Brussels Airport, said: “The greatest challenge we face today is achieving net zero emissions. Airports can play an important role in reaching this goal. According to data from the IEA, the aviation industry accounted for 2% of global CO2 emissions in 2022, and these figures need to be kept in check as the sector returns to pre-pandemic levels.

“By deploying zero-carbon solutions within our airport buildings, promising opportunities exist to make a positive impact in reducing our scope 1 and 2 emissions. While there is still much work to be done, digital twin technology can help us simulate the impact of various net-zero solutions, so we can move forward with confidence in achieving the ambitious targets we have set.

“The funding from the EU has been critical, as well as the 30% contribution from Stargate partners as co-funding. With over 30 projects under the Stargate umbrella, it’s an investment that fosters cross-border collaboration, tackling the challenges of sustainable aviation on a global footing.”

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