Research Projects

Emerging Energy Vectors at Airports

Assigned to Jacob Shila
Last Edited by Jacob Shila

Energy vectors are a means of transporting and storing energy from place and time of availability to a place and time of utilization. The proposed work aims to address the newly emerging forms of energy vectors to support airport operations' energy needs

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Utilizing renewable and sustainable energy sources to power airport operations is crucial for the aviation sector to achieve its emission reduction targets. These energy sources include solar energy, hydropower, bioenergy, wind energy, and geothermal energy; from these sources, we are able to obtain alternative jet fuels, hybrid electric systems, and hydrogen fuel cells among other products.

Of the world's energy consumption, about 43% is derived from oil and liquid fuels while 17% is derived from electricity (International Energy Agency (IEA), 2020). Electrical battery utilization is widespread, but its relatively low energy storage capacity remains a significant limitation. Additional problems associated with using batteries for providing energy include cost, recharge time, and lifetime. As the usage of renewable energy continues to increase in airports, it is vital to address the need for energy storage. Energy demands tend to fluctuate based on time of day or season of the year – hence, the need to store available energy until the time of its consumption. Optimal energy vectors can be employed to address the challenge of transporting and storing the various forms of energy sources until their consumption time, unlike a battery where storage lifetime and capacity is much more limited. Essentially, energy vectors help with the transference and storage of various forms of energy in both space and time.

To that end, energy vector technologies must be able to accommodate the full range of power needs (megawatts) as well as energy storage amounts (megawatt hours). Some examples of existing energy vectors are bioethanol and biodiesel serving as liquid energy carriers as well as biogas and syngas serving as gaseous energy vectors. Using renewable energy vectors also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Biogas and syngas energy vectors have shown potential as sources of heat and/or electricity, and they can be used within the current infrastructure such as in boilers without extensive modification. Currently, hydrogen gas is one of the most effective energy vectors that could potentially be utilized within an airport environment, although there are some limitations to its usage. Other energy vectors derived from liquid fuels fulfill most of the suitability criteria except for the environmental impact. Hydrogen is considered a 'long-term' energy vector due to its ability to be stored and used to generate electricity, be produced from a variety of pathways, and help decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a vector, hydrogen can be produced from both renewable and non-renewable sources, stored in various forms, and used in several applications for energy generation including transport applications, electricity generation, and other portable devices. Several factors have helped the application of hydrogen as an energy vector recently that have caused it to gain popularity. These factors include increasing demand in the transportation sector, unstable prices of liquid fuels, and the aging of current electrical and natural gas infrastructure. In the past, the capital establishment of hydrogen infrastructure has been cost prohibitive, but a recent study conducted by the US Argonne National Laboratory indicates that hydrogen fueling costs can be reduced significantly if several infrastructure strategies are employed.

Hydrogen-based vehicles and hydrogen infrastructure will be of greatest value if the hydrogen is obtained from renewable sources. For instance, the utilization of hydrogen-based fuel cells has also been shown to be more effective than other battery-based electric systems and heat engines. As long as the hydrogen used in these fuel cells is obtained from non-fossil fuel feedstock, the hydrogen is considered 'green'. Some of the noted benefits of hydrogen-powered fuel cells are higher chemical and specific energy compared to that of other zero-emission vehicles and traditional combustion engines. They also have a longer operational lifetime compared to other electric battery vehicles. Environmentally, fuel cells are clean, quiet, and efficient in distributed power generation since no emissions are released during power generation.

Within the transportation sector, research in hydrogen fuel cell technologies have led to significant achievements over recent decades with end-use technologies including cars, buses, trucks, stationary electrical applications, and portable generators. The continual decline in the cost of hydrogen fuel cell technologies' production has encouraged producers to pursue these technologies to a greater degree. Studies have indicated that utilization of hydrogen-based fuel cells in place of traditional fossil fuel-based ground support equipment (GSE) could reduce exhaust emissions levels at airports by between 25% to 50%, depending on the airport's operations and the GSE type being replaced. Several airports including Vancouver International, Munich, Oslo Kansai, and Narita Airports have implemented the applications of hydrogen-based energy – most of them have also incorporated the refueling stations. Hydrogen-based fuel cell technologies tested at these airports have resulted in a reduction of noise emissions, no need for battery swapping, and minimal refueling time while lasting longer.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The final deliverable will be a primer (guidebook) that will introduce airports to possible energy vectors by presenting potential opportunities and the feasibility of utilizing such energy vectors within an airport environment. Some of the useful topics to be explored might include:

  1. An overview of energy existing energy vectors such as hydrogen
  2. The current state and trends of energy usage at airports
  3. Energy vectors that are sustainable and applicable in an airport setting
  4. Current case studies of energy vectors in the transportation industry, specifically airports
  5. Financial and safety considerations related to utilization of these forms of energy
Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)
  1. Assess the energy needs of various airports based on the airports' operations
  2. Identify sustainable energy vectors that are applicable in the various airports' infrastructures
  3. Assess and describe the applicable energy vectors and their respective operational and infrastructural' requirements including weather-related limitations, safety requirements, airport size considerations, and other airport-specific concerns
  4. Survey existing airport practices that already utilize energy vectors and document effectiveness of these vectors
  5. Conduct economic feasibility studies on the adaption of energy vectors at various airports
  6. Develop recommendations on how various types of airports can utilize these forms of energy to meet their energy needs
  7. Finalize the guidebook
Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

The estimated funding for this work is $300,000. The development of the guidebook is estimated take about 12 to 18 months. The project would primarily involve two to three researchers who would synthesize the literature, gather and analyze data (from case studies and other financial and technical sources), establish recommendations, and publish the final guidebook.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

A review of the existing literature within the ACRP community identified two studies that have addressed some forms of renewable energy applications, including fuel cells, within the airport environment. ACRP Report 151 (Developing a Business Case for Renewable Energy at Airports) and ACRP Report 141 (Renewable Energy as an Airport Revenue Source) addressed the utilization of fuel cells at airports. The former developed a business case to evaluate the usage of fuel cells as a means of providing airport on-site electricity. The main gap that still needs to be addressed is the energy storage of renewable energy vectors, such as hydrogen fuel cells, and the resulting potential economic benefits. Additional research has also shown that drop-in hydrogen fueling stations can be developed, which are essential to introducing the hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

Related ACRP Literature:

  1. ACRP Report 78 - Airport Ground Support Equipment (GSE): Emission Reduction Strategies, Inventory, and Tutorial (2012)
  2. ACRP Report 141 - Renewable Energy as an Airport Revenue Source (2015)
  3. ACRP Report 151 - Developing a Business Case for Renewable Energy at Airports

Other References:

  1. Abdin, Z., Zafaranloo, A., Rafiee, A., Merida, W., Lipinski, W., Khalilpour, K. R. (2020). Hydrogen as an energy vector, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 120 (2020) 109620. Retrieved from:

  2. Agll, A. A. A., Hamad, T. A., Hamad, Y. M., Bapat, S. G., Sheffield, J. W. (2016). Development of design a drop-in hydrogen fueling station to support the early market buildout of hydrogen infrastructure, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 41(2016) 5284 – 5295. Retrieved from:

  3. Alazemi, J., & Andrews, J. (2015). Automotive hydrogen fueling stations: An international review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 48(2015) 483 – 499. Retrieved from:

  4. Baroutaji, A., Wilberforce, T., Ramadan, M., Olabi, A. G. (2019). Comprehensive investigation on hydrogen and fuel cell technology in the aviation and aerospace sectors, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 106: 31 – 50,

  5. Centi, G., & Perathoner, S. (2011). CO2-based energy vectors for the storage of solar energy, Greenhouse Gas Sci Technol. 1:21-35; DOI:10.1002/ghg3

  6. Chui, F., Elkamel, A., Fowler, M. (2005). An Integrated Decision Support Framework for the Assessment and Analysis of Hydrogen Production Pathways, Energy & Fuels 2006, 20, 346 – 352

  7. Dixon, R. (2006). Advancing Towards a Hydrogen Energy Economy: Status, Opportunities, and Barriers, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 12: 325 – 341, DOI: 10.1007/s11027-006-2328-0

  8. Edwards, P. P., Kuznetsov, V. L., David, W. I. F. (2007). Hydrogen Energy, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2007) 365, 1043 – 1056. Retrieved from: doi:10.1098/rsta.2006.1965

  9. Fuel Cells Bulletin. (2003). Fuel cell forklift from German partnership. Fuel Cell Bulletin, vol, no 12; 2003, p.9

  10. International Energy Agency (IEA). (2017). Renewable energy., Accessed date: 31 March 2020.

  11. International Energy Agency (IEA). (2020). World energy balance and statistics, Paris (France).

  12. Mandal, T. K., & Gregory, D. H. (2010). Hydrogen: a future energy vector for sustainable development, Proc Inst Mech Eng, Part C: J Mech Eng Science, 224(3):539 – 558

  13. Maroufmashat, A., & Fowler, M. (2017). Transition of Future Energy System Infrastructure; through Power-to-Gas Pathways, Energies 2017, 10, 1089. Retrieved from: doi:10.3390/en10081089

  14. McConnell VP. (2010). Fuel cells in forklifts extend commercial reach. Fuel Cells Bulletin, 2010 (9): 12 – 9

  15. National Academy of Engineering. (2004). The Hydrogen Economy, Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from:

  16. Plug Power. (2015). Fedex project rolls out fuel airport tractors. Fuel Cells Bulletin, vol, no. 5; 2015. P.2 – 3

  17. Preuster, P., Alekseev, A., Wassercheid, P. (2017). Hydrogen Storage Technologies for Future Energy Systems, The Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering 2017.8:445 – 71. Retrieved from: 060816-101334

  18. Reddi, K., Elgowainy, A., Sutherland, E. (2014). Hydrogen refueling station compression and storage optimization with tube-trailer deliveries, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 39 (2014) 19169 – 19181. Retrieved from:

  19. Robles, J. O., Billoud, M. G., Azzaro-Pantel, C., Aguilar-Lasserre, A. A. (2019). Optimal Design of a Sustainable Hydrogen Supply Chain Network: Application in an Airport Ecosystem, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2019, 7, 17857 – 17597. Retrieved from: DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.9b02620

  20. Sharaf, O. Z., & Orhan. M. F. (2014). An overview of fuel cell technology: Fundamentals and applications, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 32 (2014) 810 – 853. Retrieved from:

  21. Solarte-Toro, J.C., Chacon-Perez, Y., Cardona-Alzate, C.A. (2018). Evaluation of biogas and syngas as energy vectors for heat and power generation using lignocellulosic biomass as raw material, Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, 33:52 – 62,

  22. Surer, M. G., & Arat, H. T. (2018). State of art of hydrogen usage as a fuel on aviation, Eur Mech Sci ;2(1):20–30.

  23. Testa, E.; Giammusso, C.; Bruno, M.; Maggiore, P. (2014). Analysis of environmental benefits resulting from use of hydrogen technology in handling operations at airports, Clean Techn Envron Policy, 16:875 – 890, DOI 10.1007/s10098-013-0678-3

  24. Wing, J. (2012). Fuel cell at airports: a good idea takes off, Fuel cell today. Retrieved from:


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Idea No. 417