Canadian airport betting big on hydrogen

A birds eye view of a terminal at the Edmonton International Airport shows several airplanes surrounding the building.

Airlines and fuel providers are experimenting with using hydrogen to power aircraft and vehicles, and Edmonton International Airport (EIA) aims to be “on the leading edge of that,” according to VP Myron Keehn.

“I think hydrogen for aircraft is coming quicker than we think,” Keehn, the Canadian airport’s vice president of air service, business development, environmental, social and governance, and government relations, told FreightWaves.

He predicted the Edmonton area would be using hydrogen aircraft by 2025 at the latest. 

“We have lots of routes that can sustain that flight to fly there and back, so you don’t need two sources of hydrogen at both ends,” Keehn said. 

Alberta, including the Edmonton region, produces more than 60% of Canada’s hydrogen. “You have to have a supply of low-carbon and easily available hydrogen, which we have,” Keehn said. 

The airport is focused on creating demand for low-carbon hydrogen, assuming that the supply will follow. Many in the industry are taking the opposite approach and waiting on supply before investing in hydrogen technology.

Creating demand for hydrogen will lead to supply, create jobs and bring new investments into the region, EIA said. The goal is to show that using hydrogen as a fuel is possible.

This isn’t the first time EIA has led the charge. It was the first airport globally to sign Amazon’s The Climate Pledge, which includes a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2040.

The airport’s latest announcements include:

  • An agreement with SBI BioEnergy Inc. to lower emissions through the development of sustainable aviation fuels, biodiesel and hydrogen.
  • Partnering with FirstElement Fuel to create a hydrogen fueling station that allows Edmonton and Alberta residents to fuel up their hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) at the airport.
  • The VEXSL Hydrogen Project, which is a collaboration with Veteran Express Secure Logistics and Hydra Energy to retrofit diesel trucks to co-combust with hydrogen.
  • Working with Toyota Canada to integrate HFCVs into its operations fleet.
  • An agreement with SixRing to produce “one of the world’s cleanest drop-in aviation fuels” and secure clean hydrogen as a “key input.”
  • Partnering with Mitsui and Letenda to develop and deploy hydrogen-powered shuttle buses.
  • A memorandum of understanding with Hydra Energy to convert EIA’s airside light-, medium- and heavy-duty fleet to run on a hydrogen-diesel co-combustion system.
  • A memorandum of understanding with Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport & Urban Development to promote innovation in logistics, e-commerce and distribution with EIA’s Airport City Sustainability Campus and Canada’s first consumer-facing hydrogen hub.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’re one of, if not the, global leader in [the hydrogen] space for airports,” Keehn said. 

Hydrogen vehicles and carbon emissions

EIA will likely have “one of the largest fleets of hydrogen vehicles in an airport ecosystem in the world,” according to Keehn. Since hydrogen-powered vehicles don’t emit greenhouse gases, the main environmental consideration is how the hydrogen is produced.

Many industry players refer to hydrogen colors based on how they are produced. Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy to power electrolyzers that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Blue hydrogen is produced using natural gas, but the related greenhouse gas emissions are captured. Gray hydrogen is produced using natural gas without capturing the emissions.

“When it comes to hydrogen for us, we’re color agnostic. What we’re concerned with is the carbon intensity of that hydrogen,” Keehn said. 

EIA is partnering with SBI BioEnergy to produce hydrogen on demand using renewable natural gas, which the airport says is 90% less carbon intensive than producing gray hydrogen.

“SBI is excited to work with EIA towards meeting its ESG goals. Together, this collaboration will make EIA more sustainable by reducing its reliance on fossil fuels without incurring additional infrastructure costs,” Inder Pal Singh, founding president and CEO at SBI BioEnergy, said in a release.

Read: Plug Power’s green hydrogen will fuel 9,500 Walmart lift trucks

Building ESG into operations

EIA is putting together a comprehensive sustainability strategy covering all aspects of ESG, including GHG emissions. It will include details about the amount of hydrogen the airport will need to support its many investments.

“What we’ve done differently than others is we don’t have an ESG department sitting separately. ESG is built into the business. It’s permeated throughout the company,” Keehn said.

The airport considers the entire process from where and how things are produced to what the impacts are on the environment and indigenous communities. Two indigenous organizations have been partners invested in the Edmonton hydrogen hub since the beginning, Keehn said.

Living wall at Edmonton International Airport (Photo: Edmonton International Airport)

The airport has a “living wall” with about 8,000 individual plants of 32 different species. Some of the species have been listed by NASA as good plants for cleaning air. EIA is also growing hemp to replace plastic in straws and potentially things like door panels in the future.

EIA is in the process of building the “world’s largest solar farm at an airport.” Keehn said it will generate more than 20 times the energy the airport will need initially, leaving the rest to help power local homes until the airport needs it. 

“The world is going that way, so we can either lead, follow or get out of the way. And we want to lead,” Keehn said. “The best way to predict the future is to create it instead of having it happen to you.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

Related Stories:

ZeroAvia partners on hydrogen aircraft refueling in California

Neste, BP to provide DHL Express 211M gallons sustainable aviation fuel

Hydrogen hype? United Airlines says it could fly new-tech jets by 2028

$174B hydrogen aircraft market by 2040, Avia Solutions Group chairman says

Source: freightwaves - Canadian airport betting big on hydrogen
Editor: Alyssa Sporrer