June 23, 2021

The Secret to Improving Airport Environmental Sustainability: Lithium-ion Powered GSE

By Peter Geantil

Why We Need Airport Sustainability

Airports are often the most significant contributor to local air pollution levels for many municipalities. With sustainability initiatives becoming increasingly important for airports, finding ways to reduce carbon emissions is crucial. 

Airport Carbon Accreditation is a carbon management program that helps airports manage and reduce their CO2 emissions and improve their sustainability efforts.

Through this program, airports are categorized at different stages:

  • Mapping - Airports will map out the carbon emissions on their site.
  • Reduction - In this stage, airports have proven they have reduced emissions.
  • Optimization - Airports, in this stage, have proven they have reduced CO2 emissions and are engaging others to do the same.
  • Neutrality - Airports have offset any residual CO2 emissions under their direct control, on-site.
  • Transformation - Airports have long-term goals, have defined steps to achieve this target, and provide evidence they are driving 3rd parties towards reducing CO2 emissions.
  • Transition - Airports have fulfilled all requirements and have compensated for their residual emissions.

During the program stages, Airport Carbon Accreditation will provide frameworks for carbon management and different goals for airports to achieve. These different levels of accreditation motivate other airports to start their sustainability journey and reduce CO2 emissions.

In the past, choosing a sustainable option might have been the more expensive choice – but today, pursuing sustainability is often connected to lower costs due to increased energy efficiency.

There are many state and federal energy efficiency incentives in place such as government grants or tax-exempt leases. These incentives make it an easy decision for airports to participate in different sustainability-related programs.

In many cases, converting airport ground support equipment (GSE) fleets from propane/diesel to lithium-ion batteries can save airports money. There are FAA-sponsored grants that airports can apply for which can partially offset the cost of converting a fleet to zero emission lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries for airport ground support equipment are one of the easiest investments that airports can make to reduce both costs and CO2 emissions.

Planes Aren’t the Only Ones Creating Emissions

The primary driver of localized airport emissions is not necessarily due to airplane traffic. Instead, different power sources such as propane, diesel, and lead acid GSE can be contributors to airport emissions.

Diesel GSE fleets

Many airports run round-the-clock, so the diesel GSE fleets are constantly emitting carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides any time the engines are in use.

Propane GSE Fleets

Though propane GSE fleets produce fewer emissions than diesel, they can still produce combustion gasses such as:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide

Electric-Powered GSE Fleets 

Electric-powered GSE utilize batteries, and as a result, they typically do not produce any localized emissions. Even though electric power sources do not produce any localized emissions, they still contribute to indirect airport emissions, through energy usage. But not all batteries are created equal.

Lithium-ion batteries do not require the same level of maintenance and oversight that lead acid batteries would need.

The corrosive and dangerous chemicals used for lead acid batteries mean that airports are responsible for preventing leaks and spills from deteriorating or neglected lead acid batteries.

In addition to the lower maintenance requirements, lithium-ion battery packs have another benefit compared to lead acid batteries – better energy efficiency. Since lithium-ion batteries are more energy efficient, most of the electricity is put to productive use, which lowers the emissions associated with electricity generation.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most energy efficient with a CE rating of about 99%, while a hydrogen fuel cell averages 40-60%. Internal combustion engines have an energy efficiency between 25-30%, while lead acid battery efficiency can range anywhere from 50-90%.

Converting to lithium-ion technology means airports do not have to worry about the large amount of air pollution that internal combustion engines would produce. The use of lithium-ion eliminates many of the health risks associated with traditional lead acid batteries.

Improve Your Sustainability with Lithium-ion Ground Support Equipment

Lithium-ion battery-powered ground support equipment does not produce the same emissions as diesel and propane ground support equipment do. In fact, most lithium-ion GSE are considered zero-emission vehicles (ZEV).

Airports can also improve their sustainability efforts through improved energy efficiencies and charging efficiencies from lithium-ion ground support equipment. The equipment operator can spend more time operating GSE, rather than refueling or maintaining the equipment. As a result, more airplanes can be serviced day over day.

As airlines resume normal flight operations, local air emissions will be on the rise as well. Airports that are looking to meet or exceed their sustainability goals can further their progress by converting their ground support equipment fleets to lithium-ion technology.

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Peter Geantil

Peter Geantil

Peter Geantil has a BA in Physics from UC Berkeley and an PhD in Engineering from the University of Southern California. He has worked in the lithium-ion industrial battery sector for 7 years and has extensive experience in the latest lithium-ion technologies. He is currently the Special Projects Manager at Flux Power and specializes in expanding their applications and customer base.