How airports could become green energy powerhouses

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Cranfield University focused on carbon emissions from airport operations. Specifically, they identified opportunities for airports to become “powerhouses” of green energy using carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) technologies. CO2 harnessed by direct capture of carbon from the air, rather than stored, could be used to power aircraft operating from the airport.

However, if such green airports are to become a reality, it will take millions of pounds spent on technologies to support this, especially when it comes to direct carbon capture from the air (DAC). Meanwhile, along with the production of green hydrogen and the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), this technology would help advance the UK’s ‘jet zero’ strategy. The captured carbon could be used with green hydrogen and renewables to produce so-called Power-to-Liquid (PtL) fuels.


An example of broader collaboration with industry

The report was compiled for SITA, a leading provider of IT services to the aviation industry. It looked at 2019 emissions and other data from London Luton Airport (LTN), Aberdeen Airport (ABZ), Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) and of San Francisco (SFO).

One of the airports included in the study was London Luton, which aims to reach net zero by 2040. Picture: Luton Airport Newsroom

Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university which, among other facilities, hosts the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Center (DARTeC). The consortium advancing digital aviation technology includes Blue Bear Systems Research, Boeing, Inmarsat, International Air Transport Association (IATA), IVHM Center, Saab, Satellite Applications Catapult and Thales, among others.

The university’s Net Zero Research Airport project recently received £3.1 million ($3.77 million) in funding from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund’s (UKRPIF) Net Zero pilot funding scheme. . The funds will benefit research at DARTeC and the Aerospace Integration Research Center (AIRC).

Meanwhile, Dr. Chikage Miyoshi, co-author of the report responsible for the university’s new Sustainable Aviation Systems Laboratory, said:

“The airports concerned by this report recorded CO2 emissions of around 50 to 100 kilotonnes of CO2 per year. This indicates the potential for direct air capture in an airport environment. A combination of renewable green hydrogen technology integration with DAC and SAF could be the ideal solution to achieve true net zero. All of this requires long-term investment and strong leadership, as well as an integrated energy policy and incentive program to facilitate these changes.”

“Long term, we could see some airports act as powerhouses to fuel sustainable air travel operations.”

London Luton sustainability manager David Vasquez commented on the research,

“This collaboration provides timely and valuable insights into carbon capture and storage technologies and innovations, some of which will be explored further as we develop our scalable roadmap to net zero. While we recognize that there will be some emissions that we cannot reduce in the short term, London Luton Airport is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2023 and net zero for airport operations by 2040 This study is an example of how LLA is working with the wider industry to examine the potential of emerging carbon capture technologies.”

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The report examined the potential of six different types of CCUS-based engineering solutions.

It also looked at the possibility of combining them with now more traditional methods of CO2 mitigation/offset, such as planting trees and restoring wetlands.

Dr Carlos Kaduoka, Head of Airport Business Strategy, SITA, also commented on the report,

“SITA is committed to reducing its impact on the climate and building a more sustainable air transport industry. Contributing to Cranfield University research is an example of our industry collaborative approach to exploring new ways to help decarbonize industry and achieve net zero emissions.

The report is called The viability of Carbon Capture at Airports using Innovative Approaches and will be posted on the university’s website late next month.