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WMG shapes airports of the future through new battery tech model

WMG shapes airports of the future through new battery tech model

WMG set to help airports and aerospace manufacturers reduce CO2 emissions by providing a model to support the electrification of aircraft support equipment

Aerospace electrification can take many forms, from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) through to regional jets. However, there are opportunities to implement electrification in the systems that support the running of aeroplanes, particularly when considering the non-airborne vehicles that are essential to the workings of a successful airport.

When a conventional aircraft lands, multiple vehicles such as pushback tractors, baggage tractors, water trucks and passenger buses are deployed around an aircraft to enable it to be serviced and prepared for the next flight. These are categorised as Ground Support Equipment (GSE).

Supporting the UK Government’s drive to end the nation’s contribution to climate change by 2050, a Multi-Input Multi-Output (MIMO) model produced by a team led by Dr Andrew McGordon, Principal Engineer at WMG, University of Warwick utilises battery technology expertise and theoretical modelling to help airports and equipment manufacturers quantify the reductions in CO2 emissions by implementing electric GSE.

The model is an extension of the Catapult funded UniWARP project, which aims to provide a modelling platform for architecture choice and battery sizing in transport systems. MIMO utilises airport data to map out and link usage patterns of aircraft and GSE, and grid generation mix, to simulate the performance of using electricity to power the support vehicles. Commenting on the foundations of the project, Dr McGordon said:

“We’ve identified a potential business need and developed MIMO, which is something that fed into expanding our remit in aerospace. Given the complexity of the different vehicles and systems interacting at airports, the MIMO model is an essential tool that we have developed to allow us to understand and capitalise on opportunities that can be considered part of the vision for an airport of the future. We’ve targeted GSE initially as we see this as an opportunity for the present day too, and with the right buy-in we can start implementing this technology now.”

MIMO simulates requirements for battery sizing whilst acknowledging usage and the rate at which the batteries need to be charged in airports. The model also considers flexibility around aircraft schedules, identifying ways airports can maintain the volume of aircraft they handle whilst still reducing their emissions. Dr McGordon added:

“Electrified GSE at airports will mean locally generated renewable energy can be integrated with the airport grid to reduce CO2 emissions. As well as reducing CO2 emissions, this will reduce local emissions – improving air quality around the aircraft.”

The model’s proof of concept has been developed using data from a small regional airport delivering approximately six flights a day, which has demonstrated that it could achieve a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions by opting to use a fully electric GSE fleet. Dr McGordon added:

“There are current airports that are supporting the usage of electric GSE, for example some of the pushback tractors at Heathrow and some passenger buses recently introduced at Birmingham International. However, this is on a small scale, and we are hoping to accelerate the speed in which electric vehicles are implemented by airports, and expand the scale of the adoption.”

“Airports can make a significant difference now by electrifying GSE. Fully electric aircraft are some way away, however because GSE are smaller and more like traditional road equipment it is much more achievable in the short term. Depending on the airport, you could be looking at multiple tens of percent reduction in CO2 emissions from GSE from going down this route.”

To accelerate usage of electric technology, the model offers the flexibility for airports to look at a level of adoption for electrifying GSE, encouraging the assessment of specific types of equipment first, such as water tankers or push-back tractors if it is not possible to transfer the whole fleet to electric.

The project group now aims to commence wider business engagement with potential customers to develop the model in-line with real-time data.

Dr Andrew McGordon, Principal Engineer, WMG