The Department of Energy has awarded a $150,000 grant to InnovaTek of Richland to develop a fuel cell range extender for battery-powered airport ground support equipment.
The grant, funded through DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research Program, is to help InnovaTek establish the feasibility of the technology to meet the needs of airlines and ground handling companies to reduce emissions and fuel costs.
Dr. Patricia Irving, InnovaTek’s CEO and principal investigator for the project, said the objective is to develop a fuel cell power system that converts bio-jet fuel to electricity for on-board recharging of an electric vehicle’s battery.
“The technology will facilitate the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable fuels for airport ground service equipment, thereby improving environmental conditions at airports,” she said.
In addition, it would improve energy security and sustainability for airport operations, Irving said.
InnovaTek researchers have developed several generations of advanced chemical processing technologies including catalysts, micro-channel reactors, heat exchangers, fuel injectors and control systems. That experience has been used to develop the approach and core technology that converts renewable bio-jet fuel to hydrogen for a fuel cell.
InnovaTek will collaborate with EnerFuel, a fuel cell developer, and JBT AeroTech, a ground service equipment manufacturer, to develop a modular electric power system for an airport cargo loader that has an extended range of at least 10 hours of operation. While their performance is similar to that of battery-powered equipment, GSE with InnovaTek’s fuel cell range-extender will remain fully charged at all times by recharging the battery through an electro-chemical process that uses renewable bio-fuel.
Irving said air quality is a major concern at airports, particularly in the ramp areas where a significant amount of baggage and cargo handling takes place. Emissions such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides hydrocarbons and particulates from combustion-powered vehicles can significantly reduce air quality and threaten the health and safety of the employees. In addition, the expense of fuel and emission treatment systems represents a substantial percentage of airline and ground support costs and significantly impacts the price of air travel.
“Airlines and ground handling companies are facing ever-increasing pressure to reduce the level of emissions and fuel consumption from their operations because of the environmental impacts and costs,” said Nick Heemskerk, global product development manager at JBT AeroTech — GSE. “We are excited about the potential of an efficient battery electric power system for JBT’s equipment that has an extended range through integration with InnovaTek and EnerFuel’s technologies to meet these needs.”
DOE is interested in demonstrating alternative fuel cell technologies that also feature the potential for radical improvements in fuel cell-powered GSE performance, durability, cost, fueling infrastructure and/or manufacturing efficiencies.
If Innovatek proves the technology is feasible during the initial phase, the team will be eligible for future grants to develop, demonstrate and commercialize the product.
“When the development process is complete, this technology will have applications throughout the transportation industry, particularly in battery-powered vehicles that are used over extended periods of time before they can be recharged,” said Daniel Betts, EnerFuel’s director of business affairs.