The UK’s FAAM Airborne Laboratory has invested in an electric-powered ground power unit and aircraft tug to help reduce carbon emissions from its research operations.
Operated by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), the FAAM Airborne Laboratory’s research aircraft, a specially adapted BAE-146 aircraft, is owned by UK Research and Innovation and the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) – which has committed to achieving net zero by 2040.
Alan Woolley, head of the FAAM Airborne Laboratory, said, “By changing the way we power and move the aircraft on the ground, alongside adopting other sustainable practices, we will be able to take action on reducing our emissions as a research facility. The FAAM Airborne Laboratory is taking important steps toward net-zero goals, while continuing to make world-class measurements of the atmosphere.”
A mobile ground power unit is required for when the aircraft’s engines are off and equipment on board needs electricity, for preflight setup and postflight shutdown, and calibration tests while in the hangar or out on the airport apron. On a typical flying day, a ground power unit will be running for up to five hours.
The FAAM Airborne Laboratory currently uses a diesel ground power unit, which emits carbon dioxide, as well as nitrogen oxides, particulates and other exhaust pollutants that are detrimental to local air quality and contribute to climate change.
Recently the facility successfully tested an electric ground power unit, and found it was capable of replacing the existing diesel unit. The new electric ground power unit – which the facility is awaiting delivery of later this year – will not produce any local air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions, will reduce contamination of sensitive scientific measurement equipment on board the aircraft, and will also cut down noise disturbance.
The research facility has also procured an electric-powered tug that is capable of transporting the aircraft and its ground power unit over short distances. As well as moving to electric powered ground power units and towing equipment, the FAAM Airborne Laboratory has recently flown with sustainable aviation fuel for the first time, and has imminent plans for a ready supply and storage at its Cranfield Airport base. The hangar facilities will start to use a local solar energy supply, which means the supply of electricity to the new ground power unit and tug will also be more sustainable.