Investment in new technology to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions at airports urgently needed, report reveals

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Multi-billion dollar investment in technology including direct air capture (DAC) is urgently needed if the UK is to make ‘green’ airports a reality in the future, Cranfield University research has revealed.

In the first study of its kind to focus primarily on emissions from operational aspects of airports, researchers looked at how carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) technologies could be deployed across the sector to help some airports effectively converted into green energy “power plants” to refuel the aircraft they serve to achieve the true net zero goal.

DAC works by capturing CO2 into the air and then either sequester it or use it to produce a carbon neutral fuel.

The report, which was compiled for the world’s leading air transport technology specialist, SITA, examined the 2019 emissions and other information from London Luton Airport (LTN), Aberdeen Airport (ABZ), India’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Direct Air Capture, Green Hydrogen and SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel)

The researchers said that a combination of integrating renewable green hydrogen technology (generated from renewable or low-carbon energy) with DAC and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) would help the UK’s Net Zero ambitions. The report adds that as part of the government’s Net Zero 2050 roadmap, CCUS should be included alongside other energy policies for air transport.

Dr. Chikage Miyoshi, co-author of the report from Cranfield University and head of the university’s new Sustainable Aviation Systems Laboratory, says that “measures to reduce carbon emissions have the potential to revolutionize the concept of aerospace sustainability, particularly through CCUS at airports.’

“Airports participating in this report register CO2 emissions in the range of 50 to 100 kilotons CO2 annually. This shows the potential for direct air capture in an airport environment.”

“The combination of integrating renewable green hydrogen technology with DAC and SAF could be the ideal solution to achieve true net zero.”

“All this requires long-term investment and strong leadership together with an integrated energy policy and incentive scheme to facilitate such changes. In the long term, we may see some airports act as powerhouses to power sustainable air transport operations.”

CCUS has both engineered and natural solutions

Six different types of CCUS engineering solutions were examined as part of the report. These can be combined with natural CO mitigation solutions2 emissions, including tree planting and wetland restoration.

“Although the land required for DAC is relatively small,” says Dr. Miyoshi, “the initial investment is large. However, when we calculate the operating costs of reducing CO2 per passenger, it represents value for money.”

“There are various sources of emissions at an airport, ranging from power generation to ground operations. Emissions from passenger access to the surface (the way customers get to the airport) are the second largest source of emissions after aircraft emissions.’

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

Head of Sustainability at London Luton Airport, David Vazquez, says “this collaboration provides timely, valuable insight into carbon capture and storage technologies and innovations, some of which we will explore further as we develop our evolving roadmap for 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 in 2023 and net zero for airport operations by 2040. This study is an example of how on which LLA is working with the wider industry to look at the potential of emerging carbon capture technologies.”

Dr Carlos Caduoka, Head of Airport Business Strategy, SITA, says “SITA is committed to reducing its climate impact and building a more sustainable air transport industry.”

“Cranfield University’s research contribution is one example of our collaborative industry approach to exploring new ways to help industry decarbonise and reach net zero emissions.”

The report – “The Viability of Airport Carbon Capture Using Innovative Approaches” – will be published at the end of August on Cranfield University’s website.

Hydrogen production policy critical to net zero emissions

Provided by Cranfield University

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