Greener Aviation: Electric Bus Shuttle, Solar Power, Mallee Biofuel


Aircraft are one of the most obvious contributors to greenhouse gases – but the companies that run them are trying to cut back on emissions. By Jeremy Torr.

Amsterdam, 23 May 2104 - Schiphol Airport is one of the more progressive institutions in the aviation industry: it wants to be completely carbon neutral by 2020. According to Suzanne Sweerman, an Executive Director at the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), it is looking at using electric buses to transport passengers to and from aircraft instead of petrol or diesel vehicles.

Suzanne Sweerman says Schipol will be carbon neutral by 2020“Schiphol's choice of electric transport represents an important step towards reducing CO2 emissions,” says Sweerman. Schiphol claims to be the first airport in the world to use electric passenger transport and syas that this is only the start – the airport plans to generate 20% of all its energy requirements sustainably by 2020.

Sweerman says it is also pushing its subcontractors to use environmentally friendly vehicles, and is already using some 20 electric vehicles for general usage. It has also set up a special knowledge cluster where companies, government agencies and academic institutions collaborate on applications for Schiphol and other green airports. Participants include Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Wageningen University & Research Centre, and Imtech – a company specialising in ‘green’ technologies.

First moves in the greening of Schipol include a test field of 9,500 m² of solar panels that generate more than 440,000 kilowatt hours of green energy a year. The test aims to determine the cost-effectiveness of large-scaled, long-term use of solar energy at Schiphol to extend the existing use of PV panels on Schipol’s TransPort office building, the main office building, and one cargo building.

Also, the airport’s Schiphol Plaza (central entrance hall) is the first structure in the Netherlands combining a green roof with a solar system. The innovative system uses a combination of live plants and PV support structures to allow the solar modules to be kept in place only by the weight of the green roof substrate – no ugly solar farm structures are needed.

Schipol's Green Roof uses an innovative mix of vegetation and solar panels to help keep emissions down

The roof also uses a unique “Fixodrain” drainage element with a protective rubber mat attached on the underside to stop the large surface area from becoming waterlogged and endangering the PV panels.

Toyota is pushing strongly for airport solar farmsLikewise, car parks have gone power-efficient with new LED lighting that cuts power consumption by 4-70% and saves some 77.5 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted from the vast car parking areas.

Dutch airlines are following suit. Last year KLM began weekly flights from the U.S. to Amsterdam, on a fuel mix that includes leftover cooking oil from frying Cajun food in Louisiana. The flights use a combination of 25% cooking oil and 75% jet fuel. KLM claims the use of recycled cooking oil cuts carbon emissions by up to 80%.

A more local study is also looking at green aviation solutions. A two year study by the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Centre (CRC) and sponsored by Virgin Australia and aircraft makers Airbus investigated using the product of Australia's iconic Mallee trees to make jet biofuels. The research looked at the production of aviation grade biofuel using special pyrolysis thermal and upgrading processes and rely on the fact that Mallee trees flourish in regions of poor soil and do not directly compete for water nor with food production. The study included examining the viability of a complete industry supply chain from grower to aviation user, and concluded that jet fuel made from the Mallee tree should meet strict sustainability criteria determined by the Roundtable for Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).

The advantage of Mallee is that it can be reharvested several times without damageThe biofuels processed from mallee biomass are called ‘second generation biofuels’, and are derived from the breakdown of lignins and cellulose in the trunks which are not digestible by humans. This avoids the use of grain, corn, sugar and oilseed crops (first generation biofuels).

There are a number of ligno-cellulosic processing technologies under development, ranging from the use of heat under anaerobic conditions (called fast pyrolysis), through chemical breakdown to the potential use
of enzymes. Fast pyrolysis is an established process that converts many forms of biomass into a crude oil (bio-oil) along with char and gas.  

“What this report demonstrates is that Mallees can provide a future economic benefit to farmers and regional communities,” said Dr John McGrath, CRC Research Director. “Mallee integrates well with farm crop and livestock operations and can protect and enhance biodiversity, and contributing to rebalancing water tables and could help establish a viable biofuel industry by 2021.”

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