Green and Mean

June 1, 2001

Green and Mean

By Richard Rowe

June 2001

Richard Rowe reports on the quest for alternate fuel vehicles that really do make an operational difference in the challenging airport environment.

There has been momentum before, but nothing quite like this. While the airline world has been playing with electric GSE and alternate fuel options for the best part of 25 years, it was often stumped by technology that failed to keep pace with its dreams. But technology is catching up and the industry is abuzz with talk of alternate fuel vehicles (AFVs) that can genuinely do the job while providing lower emissions and contributing to cleaner air.

The major source of airport pollution is not aircraft, but the army of powered ground support equipment that serves those aircraft. Rather than looking at the issues piecemeal, airports and their tenants are increasingly understanding that the issue of air quality goes beyond just NOx (nitrogen oxides) issues to include a whole raft of public health issues.

The good news is that the need to include AFV technology into an airline’s business model is making its way into corporate culture. Similarly, airports know that expansion plans are unlikely to be approved unless they demonstrate a commitment to reducing emissions. Regulators need reductions, while airports hope that regulatory bodies will pursue cooperation rather than pure imposition, and perhaps provide the kind of incentives that make choices that much easier.

An interesting point raised at the Alternate Fuel Vehicle Conference held at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) in February centered on how the use of low emission vehicles could prove a great marketing tool for airlines. True, there is possibly no other place than an airport where the general public comes into contact with such technology. People notice, and particularly a captive audience such as air travelers. The high visibility of such equipment could prove symbolic of an airline at the forefront of its field, and a true sign of leadership.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sees airports as just the kind of niche market that can really make a difference in its development of low emission vehicles. The DOE sponsors the Clean Cities Program which in turn supports public-private partnerships that deploy AFVs and build supporting infrastructure.

Airports are one niche market where the program is in use, and it was the Clean Cities Coalition that worked with American Airlines to bring all electric GSE to the carrier’s ground operation at El Paso International Airport earlier this year (see GSE Today, March 2001).

El Paso is joined by several much larger U.S. airports in pursuing alternate fuel programs: DFW, Sacramento, and Denver (CNG and electric), Baltimore/Washington (CNG), the Los Angeles system of airports (LNG, CNG and electric), plus Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and San Francisco (CNG).

San Francisco International was understandably pleased with the May announcement by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta that it had been selected as one of 10 U.S. airports to participate in a program to improve air quality by encouraging the use of AFVs (see GSE Today, March 2001, page 24, for more on the airport’s efforts to reduce emissions).

Under the Inherently Low-Emission Airport Vehicle (ILEAV) program, the Department of Transportation (DOT) provides 50 percent of the cost of low-emission vehicles as well as the cost of refueling and recharging stations, up to a total of $2 million for each airport. Each airport funds the remaining costs. According to the DOE, the ILEAV program will substantially reduce ozone and carbon monoxide levels at airports that are located in areas where the air quality standards fail to meet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirement. The program is projected to eliminate 1,100 tons of ozone pollutants and 2,300 tons of carbon monoxide in the San Francisco Bay area alone.

In San Francisco, ILEAV funding will be used to acquire 316 low-emission vehicles, including baggage tugs, belt loaders and on-road vehicles, and 11 new electric "fast-charging" stations. The funds will be made available through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program. With local matching funds, the program represents a combined $46 million nationwide investment by the government, airports, and industry.

In addition to San Francisco, other airports selected to participate in the program are Sacramento International; Baltimore-Washington International; Baton Rouge Metropolitan; Chicago O’Hare; DFW; Denver International; Atlanta Hartsfield; and New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports.

With or without such funding, the challenge remains great for airports and tenants alike. The DFW Airport Board, for example, set a long-term goal of converting 50 percent of its overall fleet to operate on alternate fuels. Meanwhile, driven by state and national regulations, the airport’s major tenant American Airlines has committed to changing some 80 percent of its entire powered GSE fleet to electric/alternate fuel within the next 10-12 years.

The conversion will cost more than US$400 million. Its powered GSE fleet currently numbers 9,500 units. American’s huge operation at DFW, which numbers 1,600 units of powered GSE, has to be ready in less than three and a half years.

American’s electrification efforts to date have centered on baggage tractors, belt loaders, and forklifts. The airline currently boasts an electric fleet of around 1,000 units, with nearly 430 at DFW, and sizeable amounts at airport such as Los Angeles and Orlando.

At the time of this writing, American is in the process of changing its fleet to accommodate 695 electric bag tractors, 213 belt loaders, and 50 forklifts. A gradual push throughout the year will see new electric pushback tractors and cargo tractors also come on board.

According to American, infrastructure is the real killer. Airports simply don’t have the means to charge electric vehicles in an efficient and systematic way. "In the past, the problem has been that it takes six to eight hours to recharge [each electric vehicle]," says Dewey Kulzer, Manager, GSE Technology Development, American Airlines. "They couldn’t always make it through an operational day and needed individual chargers."

The solution, according to Kulzer and others, lies in fast charge technology. "Parallel fast charging recharges in under one hour rather than eight hours," says Kulzer. "You can even charge during lunch breaks or run an emergency recharge for 10 minutes that can add two hours of operational life. Fast chargers also use one third of the power of conventional chargers and can charge up to 10 vehicles at one station." This equates to charging three times the equipment with the same power used for conventional chargers.

Earlier this year, American installed the first four of 10 PosiCharge ® MVS multi-vehicle fast charging systems at DFW from California-based AeroVironment. When all 10 MVS chargers are in place, the airline will be able to fast charge more than 100 items of GSE, creating the largest fast charging installation in the world. According to AeroVironment, the system fast charges 24-, 36-, 48-, 72-, 80-and 96-volt battery packs and has a peak power rating of 60kW.

The system enables American to use more electric GSE in areas of the airport where electrical infrastructure is lacking and limits the number of vehicles available because of the need for a dedicated charger for each vehicle. The typical electrical service for an MVS that supports up to 10 charging ports capable of charging up to 10 vehicles can be as low as 70 amps. Ten conventional chargers would require 200-300 amps of electrical service, says AeroVironment.

Allen and Associates, which represents AeroVironment PosiCharge products in the GSE market place on behalf of Enersys, Inc. introduced American to the MVS concept in early 2000. According to Bob Allen, President, three key factors contributed to American’s interest in the system. Available utility infrastructure and physical space were problems, but most importantly, the airline needed to address the shorter time frame in which to charge batteries.

"Due to the increase in red eye and early morning flights, the window to charge an industrial battery in eight hours or less was shrinking substantially," says Allen.

Of course, American is not alone in its efforts. Airport GSE was also a newly targeted sector in terms of complying with ozone standards in the Houston/Galveston area of Texas by 2007. The initial proposed GSE regulation required 100 percent electrification of GSE from airport operations, according to Jim Houck, GSE Manager, Continental Airlines, outlining the airline’s Memorandum of Agreement with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).

Continental subsequently negotiated with the TNRCC to implement a voluntary NOx emissions reduction effort at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. This Voluntary Emission Reduction Program was approved by the TNRCC in October 2000.

Continental’s agreement stated specific reduction requirements. The airline is charged with reducing NOx emissions from its 1996 GSE fleet by 25 percent by December 31, 2003, 50 percent by December 31, 2004, and 75 percent by December 31, 2005.

Other compliance requirements will see Continental install Reasonable Available Controls Considering Costs (RACC) on all of the airline’s GSE placed into service after 1996 and to utilize best available technology (BAT) on all GSE placed into service after 2004.

As Jim Houck told the audience at the February AFV Conference, Continental’s 1,200-strong fleet of powered GSE at Houston (which includes Continental Express) can be broken down as follows: Gasoline 810 (67 percent), diesel 193 (16 percent), LPG 35 (3 percent), and electric 170 (14 percent).

A commitment is now in place to replace belt loaders, baggage tractors, and gasoline forklifts with electric GSE, to install catalytic converters on gasoline GSE, purchase LEV 4.2 engines for long haul GSE, and install catalytic converters and particle traps on diesel engines.

Continental and Continental Express airport infrastructure has already reduced emissions by installing boarding bridge aircraft electrical power and preconditioned air at current gates. Such modifications will also be installed at the new Terminal E at Houston Intercontinental (to be completed in 2003). As Houck points out, this will reduce the reliance on GSE to provide electrical power and cool the aircraft, and should greatly reduce aircraft APU usage and fuel consumption. In addition, electrical power for fast chargers will also be included in the design of the new gates and added to existing structures.

Elsewhere, a new 10,000 square foot GSE shop will be built in Terminal E designed specifically for servicing electric vehicles. Construction has also begun on a new 120,000-square-foot air cargo facility, which will use electric forklifts and fast charging systems.

This year alone will see Continental purchase 25 electric beltloaders, 15 A/C electric tractors, 16 gate fast charging systems, up to 50 4.2 LEV gas engines for long haul tractors, and replace 7 LPG forklifts with electric. The airline will also continue to utilize its growing fleet of towbarless tractors to an average of 30 aircraft moves per day which reduces aircraft fuel burn and emissions. Finally, Continental will from now on purchase only low emission vehicles for on-road use to meet the TNRCC Clean Air Fleet requirements, and replace most vendor fuel trucks with zero pollution fuel carts.

There are many challenges, says Houck, including "Installing the fast charge systems, interfacing the batteries with the fast charger, and training the operators in an all electric vehicle environment."

In addition, Continental has to continue to evaluate the new A/C electric tractors in the Houston bag tunnels with a seven percent grade, and eliminate battery charging decisions and servicing by the operator. The airline plans to use smart battery charging technology and "waterless batteries" (high water lead acid batteries with extended water servicing periods), as well as keeping tabs on advances in fuel cell technology.

The opportunities for GSE manufacturers are clear and many are scrambling to meet the growing demand of the airline community around the world. One, Charlatte America, used last year’s GSE Expo to unveil the latest additions to its range of all-electric powered GSE--a new battery powered CBT 350 tow tractor, and its CUV 2000 heavy-duty universal chassis. Both are designed to incorporate the new Ecostar A/C powertrain and power conversion system from the Ford Motor Company.

The CBT 350 baggage tow tractor is designed for light to heavy-duty long distance towing. The powertrain is a 80V, 30kw (40hp) A/C motor, electronic accelerator pedal assembly, and AC/DC converter for 12V auxiliary service.

According to Bill Biermann, Manager, Sales and Marketing at Charlatte, at least three major U.S. airlines are lining up to add the CBT 350 to their fleets. Final work and comprehensive testing is now being conducted on the vehicle’s axle, and everything should be squared up by mid-summer, says Biermann.

Meanwhile, Charlatte’s CUV 2000 features a heavy-duty unitized welded chassis rated at 32,000 pounds GVW with a planetary rear axle rated at 30,000 pounds and standard beam front axle rated at 22,000 pounds, providing a 12,000 pound load capacity. Energy is supplied by 4 x 80V batteries wired in series to provide 320 volts to power a 90 hp A/C booster drive system.

Biermann reports one major U.S. fuel vehicle manufacturer, together with an international fuel provider, as showing strong interest in incorporating the universal chassis into its first electric fuel truck. "They are looking at a full electrified fuel truck and pumping station," says Biermann.

In another first, one of Charlatte’s sister companies within its parent Fayat Group in Toulouse, France, is developing a new electric airport ramp sweeper. Biermann is excited about the new venture and says that the multi-purpose sweeper will be ideal for removing FOD, rubber deposits, oil, and glycol from the airport tarmac.

Charlatte is clearly one manufacturer with proven GSE that can provide demonstrable operational savings for airline customers. The company now offers a range of products that includes AC and DC baggage tractors, belt loaders, maintenance utility carriers, and smaller mail logistics tractors.

According to Charlatte’s VP, Sales and Marketing, Bill Dean, studies by major air carriers show that the maintenance costs for such equipment is roughly half that of internal combustion engine vehicles. "Depending on use, this can result in savings from $1,000 to $4,000 per vehicle annually," he says. "When these savings are added to the various governmental incentives that promote zero emissions vehicles, the numbers are very attractive and estimates of capital return have shown payback in less than 36 months."

Meanwhile, working in close partnership with Southwest Airlines, FMC Airline Equipment has produced an emissions-free electric version of its B350 Aircraft Tow Tractor. According to FMC, Southwest is now field-testing a prototype of the new battery-powered unit under actual ramp conditions at it facilities at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

"The prototype has exceeded our expectations in terms of performance, times between charges, and duration of pushouts," commented FMC Tow Tractor Product Manager Tim Rane.

Southwest’s desire to acquire FMC B350s with all its usual features but electric power originally spurred the joint developmental project, says FMC. When prototype testing is complete, the company will manufacture an additional 19 electric B350s for Southwest, bringing the initial fleet to a total of 20.

Next, FMC development plans call for producing an electric version of its B600 Tow Tractor.

Another U.S.-based manufacturer, Harlan Corporation, recently launched its new HLE 80 volt electric airport towing tractor with an AC motor that the company says makes it perform more like a diesel than an electric-powered vehicle.

According to Harlan, the HLE has the lowest overall operating cost available in the market place while also providing distinct safety and environmental competitive advantages. The vehicle uses an integrated drive axle (the motor is built into the axle making it more efficient), and a robust one-piece cast hydrostatic steer axle with the cylinder made into the middle of the beam. (Look for a report on developments with this exciting new product in the next issue of GSE Today.)

And there is much more to come from these and countless other manufacturers pushing the envelope around the world. With such developments in mind, the industry could be witnessing the beginning of the end for the internal combustion engine. Certainly, 10 to 15 years down the line, GSE will look very different. The chances are, says Dewey Kulzer at American, that by then fuel cells will have replaced batteries, allowing electric vehicles to have unlimited range.