Sustainable aviation

Olympia Regional Airport looks into serving electric and biofuel aircraft

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With increasing concern over climate change, the Olympia Regional Airport (Airport Code: OLM) is looking into more sustainable alternatives to aviation fuel as a part of its planning process for the Airport Master Plan Update. 

Aviation Planner Haseeb Mirza discussed two alternatives for aviation fuel during the Port of Olympia Technical Advisory Committee meeting on Thu., July 15. “Airports are constantly evolving to address issues involving the aviation industry, and one of the biggest concerns facing the industry today is the environmental impact [of fuels] as demand continues to grow,” Mirza said.

Biofuels

One of the possible alternatives that OLM is looking into are biofuels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, most of the biomass fuel produced in the country is distilled from corn. These may be either used on its own or mixed with other petroleum fuels such as gasoline. Other biofuels are often made from waste oil and animal fats.

Mirza claimed that one of the issues that they face in adopting the biofuel alternative is ensuring quality control in the process of mixing jet fuels and biofuels. For his recommendation, Mirza suggested storing the jet and biofuel separately, and then mixing the two in one tank onsite.

The aviation planner claimed that another major issue with biofuel is its cost. He noted that biofuels are currently two to three times more expensive than jet fuel.

The aviation planner believed that the industry may be able to close the gap in the next few years with new developments in biofuel technology. As of today, the demand continues to grow. One of the biggest consumers include the United Airlines which purchases approximately 10 million gallons of biofuel per year from the LAX airport.

Electric aviation

 In 2020, Mirza noted that the Washington State Department of Transportation recommended OLM as an initial beta test site for electric aircraft. See related story.

He explained that one of the considerations for choosing OLM includes its runway length, connectivity to airports within a 500 mm distance, and the availability of jet fuel for hybrid electric aircrafts. Based on the study, Mirza explained that in order to fully integrate electric aircraft into the existing transportation network, OLM needs to have electrical infrastructure.

With this, OLM also needs to upgrade its power distribution system by installing on-site energy generation such as solar power and wind turbines, providing a team of local energy providers and a limit on the power use, especially when it comes to charging.

In terms of providing energy to an electric aircraft, the aviation planner suggested battery swapping, which involves replacing spent batteries with a fully charged-one or they may opt for on-site direct charging.

These discussions will be incorporated into the Airport Master Plan Update. Once approved, the OLM staff will adopt the recommendations by June or July 2022.

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