Urgent investment is needed to mitigate airports’ carbon dioxide emissions, Cranfield University reports

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In a report called The Viability of Carbon Capture at Airports using Innovative Approaches, Cranfield University in the UK has found that urgent multi-million-pound investments are needed to mitigate airports’ CO2  emissions.

According to the report, technologies including direct air capture (DAC) are required if the UK is to make ‘green’ airports a reality in the future. DAC works by capturing CO2  in the air and then either sequestrating it or using it to manufacture carbon-neutral fuel. The study focused primarily on emissions from the operational aspects of airports, looking at how carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) technologies could be deployed across the sector to help some airports effectively become green energy ‘power stations’ to fuel the aircraft they serve to achieve the true net zero target.

The report – which was compiled for SITA – examined 2019 emissions and other information from London Luton Airport (LTN) in England, Aberdeen Airport (ABZ) in Scotland, Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in India and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in California. The researchers found that integrating renewable green hydrogen technology (generated by renewable energy or low-carbon power) with DAC and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) would help 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 transportation energy policies.

Dr Chikage Miyoshi, a co-author of the report and leader of Cranfield University’s Sustainable Aviation Systems Laboratory, said, “Carbon abatement measures have the potential to revolutionize the concept of aerospace sustainability, particularly through CCUS at airports. The case airports involved in this report recorded CO2   emissions in the range of 50-100 kilotons of CO2  per annum. This indicates the potential of direct air capture in an airport environment. A combination of integrating renewable green hydrogen technology with DAC and SAF could be the ideal solution for achieving true net zero. This all requires long-term investment and strong leadership alongside an integrated energy policy and incentive scheme to facilitate such changes. In the long run, we could see some airports act as power stations to fuel sustainable air transport operations.”

Six different types of CCUS engineering-based solutions were examined as part of the report. These can be combined with nature-based solutions – including tree planting and wetland restoration – to mitigate CO2  emissions. Miyoshi continued, “Although the land required for DAC is relatively small, the initial investment is large. However, when we compute the operating cost 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. 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.”

David Vazquez, head of sustainability at London Luton Airport, said, “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 net zero roadmap. Although we recognize 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 the way in which LLA is working with the wider industry to look at the potential of emerging carbon capture technologies”.

Dr Carlos Kaduoka, head of airport business strategy at SITA, said, “SITA is committed to reducing its climate impact and building a more sustainable air transport industry. Contributing to the research by Cranfield University is one example of our collaborative industry approach to exploring new ways to help decarbonize the industry and reach net zero emissions.”

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