Now Arriving: Hybrid fuel cell airport infrastructure

Airports are notoriously large polluters – a by-product of the large number of planes that takeoff and land on their runways and the many ground vehicles that are used to support them. Unfortunately, while we are still some way off from realising a viable solution to emissions-free commercial airliners, the opportunity does exist today, for airports to decarbonise their supporting infrastructure as much as they can.

In a recent article, Fuel Cell Today presents a market view of how fuel cells are being used to displace emissions from airside and landside vehicles, through ground support equipment (GSE) and elsewhere.  Forklift fuel cell specialist Plug Power recently received $2.5 million from the US Department of Health to retrofit fifteen electric tow tractors with hydrogen-powered fuel cells.

This kind of investment is timely – the introduction of hydrogen powered GSE and resulting hydrogen refuelling stations will open doors elsewhere. This may include the introduction of hydrogen powered shuttle buses, which ferry passengers between terminals or car parks, especially once FCEVs have widely commercialised.

This concept can be easily achieved when constructing new airports. As part of the construction of Germany’s Berlin Brandenberg airport (BER), a wind-hydrogen hybrid power plant was built near the town of Prenzlau Uckermark. During periods of excess wind, the three 2 MW wind plants generate carbon-dioxide-free hydrogen via electrolysis, which can be stored and used on site. To take advantage of this, TOTAL has constructed a hydrogen refuelling station on a forecourt that includes CNG refuelling, conventional refuelling, and battery vehicle charging points – see below.

ImageIntelligent Energy’s own technology powered a fleet of fuel cell electric cabs which transported visiting dignitaries around London during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This was supported by the introduction of the city’s second hydrogen fuelling station at Heathrow airport.

Whatever the starting point (reducing carbon emissions, using cleaner fuels, less dependence on fossils, or another), such investments are encouraging innovative approaches to energy management.  The seeds of a better, more efficient intelligent energy grid are being sowed.

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