‘Green’ airport tech urgently needed, says report

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A report from Cranfield University said that multi-million-pound investment is ‘urgently needed’ in technology to mitigate CO2 emissions at airports.

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The study focused primarily on emissions from the operational aspects of airports. Researchers looked at how carbon capture, utilisation and sequestration (CCUS) technologies could be deployed across the sector to help airports become ‘green energy power stations’ for fuelling aircraft.

Technologies such as direct air capture (DAC) will be key if the UK is to make ‘green’ airports a reality in the future, the report revealed. DAC works by capturing the CO2 in the air and then either sequestrating it or using it to manufacture carbon neutral fuel.

The report was compiled for air transport technology company SITA. It examined 2019 emissions and other information from London Luton Airport, Aberdeen Airport, Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, India and San Francisco International Airport.

Researchers said that a combination of integrating renewable green hydrogen energy (generated by renewable energy or low-carbon power) with DAC and sustainable aviation fuel would help in the UK’s net zero ambitions. The report added that as part of the government’s Net Zero 2050 roadmap, CCUS should be included alongside other air transport energy policies.

“Carbon abatement measures have the potential to revolutionise the concept of aerospace sustainability, particularly through CCUS at airports,” said Dr Chikage Miyoshi, co-author of the report and lead for Cranfield University’s new Sustainable Aviation Systems Laboratory.

“The case airports involved in this report recorded CO2 emissions in the range of 50 to 100 kilo tonnes of CO2 per annum. This indicates the potential of direct air capture in an airport environment.”

Dr Miyoshi added that long-term investment and strong leadership will be required alongside an integrated energy policy and incentive scheme to facilitate such changes.

As part of the report, six types of CCUS engineering-based solutions were examined. These could be combined with nature-based solutions for mitigating CO2 emissions, including tree planting and wetland restoration, researchers suggested.

Miyoshi explained that whilst the land required for DAC is relatively small, the initial investment is large — however, when the operating cost is computed to abate CO2 per passenger, it represents value for money.

“There are various sources of emissions at an airport ranging from electrical generation through to ground operations. Emissions from passenger surface access [the way customers reach the airport] are the second largest emissions source after aircraft emissions,” Dr Miyoshi said.

“Based on current technology, it is estimated that for CCUS engineering measures at Luton Airport, up to 0.04-2.5km2 would be required. Some aspects could be introduced by airports working with local power stations.”

London Luton Airport head of sustainability, David Vazquez, said that the collaboration provides timely and valuable insight into CCUS tech and innovations, some of which the airport will explore further.

“Although we recognise there will be some emissions that we cannot reduce in the short-term, London Luton Airport is committed to achieving carbon neutrality in 2023 and net zero for airport operations by 2040,” said Vazquez.