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DOE to award up to $2.5M to deploy fuel-cell-powered baggage tow tractors at commercial airports

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award up to $2.5 million this year to demonstrate and to deploy fuel-cell-electric baggage tow tractors (BTT) at major US commercial airports. DOE plans to select up to three projects under the terms of a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000701), which will also leverage more than $2.5 million in additional funding from private and other sources.

With this FOA, DOE is seeking packaged solutions for current-generation polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell systems (5 to 20 kW) fueled by hydrogen with the ability to power a baggage tow tractor with 3,000 to 6,000 pounds (1,362 to 2,722 kg) towing capability for a minimum of 10 hours of continuous operation and 5,000 total hours.

Candidate projects must focus on developing, deploying, and validating systems in the field under real world operating conditions. The target market is commercial airports and air freight distribution centers used by passenger airlines and air freight industries.

This funding is intended to help industry bring advanced fuel cell technologies into emerging markets and provide airlines and airports with new choices for ground support operations that cut energy costs, air pollution, and petroleum use.

Although the majority of DOE’s funding for fuel cells is directed at research and development, DOE has previously supported other early market applications, such as fuel cell forklifts and back-up power for telecommunications. After DOE catalyzed these early fuel cell applications, private financing has been used to deploy thousands of forklifts and back-up power devices, the department noted. In addition, support for these early markets provides near-term manufacturing opportunities and experience that can be leveraged to inform more mainstream applications, such as light-duty vehicles, which can significantly reduce petroleum use.

Based on a Battelle Memorial Institute (BMI) study published in 2007 and feedback from a DOE-issued Request for Information (earlier post), DOE identified the ground support equipment (GSE)—including BTTs—power application as an emerging opportunity that can provide airport ground operations productivity improvements and emissions reductions while jumpstarting the development of a domestic fuel cell supplier base.

The total estimated current market size for baggage tow tractors is approximately 14,000 baggage tractors in the United States. Federal programs, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) Program, provide financial incentives to airports and airlines to convert their fleets of GSE, including baggage tow tractors, to low-emission technologies. (DOE is encouraging applicants for this FOA to leverage other federal programs and incentives.)

According to the BMI study, while battery-powered vehicles are quickly making in-roads to this market, at major airports where baggage tractors run nearly continuously, time required for maintenance and battery charging requires costly backup equipment or results in loss of productivity. Battery charging and unscheduled downtime required by inadequate charge time can impact productivity, particularly for airlines and air freight industries. Unscheduled maintenance on battery powered GSE is frequent enough to present a significant cost to users.

Rapid chargers for battery-powered vehicles and extra vehicles to ensure continued operations if a vehicle were to need maintenance require sizeable investments. Space required for battery charging can also represent a significant cost. The BMI study showed that polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells have the potential to provide a value proposition when used in GSE.

The ability to demonstrate cost savings—capital, operating and maintenance costs as well as financial incentives that reduce capital cost—will be key factors in supporting the adoption of PEM fuel cell-powered GSE vehicles as alternatives to battery-powered vehicles, according to the DOE.

The Department seeks applicants to demonstrate and test the performance and economic viability of advanced fuel cell systems for up to three years. The 50% cost-shared projects will supply information on fuel cell system operation and data on the economics of these vehicles to the Hydrogen Secure Data Center at the Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for analysis and comparison.

Data will be collected from actual airport operations so that engineers and economic analysts can assess the technology's performance, durability, and cost-effectiveness under the real-world conditions of commercial airports. Conclusions will be drawn from the data to evaluate the commercial viability of this fuel cell application, and the data will be shared with fuel cell manufacturers, helping to improve their designs and optimize overall performance and costs.

DOE anticipates that awards resulting from this FOA will consist of either two phases (Demonstration and Deployment) or one phase (Deployment only). All projects must have a Deployment Phase. Examples of demonstration work, if proposed, could include the analysis, fabrication, and integration of component or propulsion systems as well as vehicle integration. Within the Deployment Phase, projects are to deploy and to operate in the field a minimum of one fuel cell-powered baggage tow tractor (multiple BTTs are preferred) at an airport or air freight distribution center located in the US for a minimum of one year.

Regardless of whether applicants propose Demonstration and Deployment Phases or only a Deployment Phase, the effort funded through any award from this FOA will be for technologies at Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 7-9 only.



Fuel cell should seem very clean behind jet exhaust.


This has the potential to put a stop to this stupidity.


They say that it cost more with batteries and also that it's less productive because of the added downtime and more space needed. With these fuelcell cost for a ticket airplane will be lower and also it erase completelly pollution not only at the airport but also everywhere where petrol is extracted and refine and transport and used. After this it it just a matter of putting these fuelcell in planes, cars, trucks, trains, electrical power-plants and ships for cheap abondant fuel without pollution.


Actualy what is pushing this is worker safety reg changes and enviro reg changes. They know its only a matter of time before they have to make the jump and realy there is nothing else to jump to.


Warehouse operators use fuel cell powered forklift trucks because they have found they are cheaper to service and maintain than lead acid batteries. Nothing wrong with that so more power to them. If the battery lobby doesn't like it they should get a life.


If these are so much cheaper and better, why does the DOE have to give them $2.5M of my money to deploy them?

Christopher Miles

This is great to see- We certainly need to be thinking of not just the jet fuel, but everything surrounding flight as bug energy consumer/C02 emitter.

Just look at Airports fuel use and emissions (without thinking of the jets for a moment)- the circling airport parking and rental car shuttles- the tugs, the baggage carts, the fuel and support vehicles.

With some re-engineering /re-architing(moving things like rental cars closer in, etc) as well as new fuels for support vehicles- we could really make a dent in Airport emissions.

Not sure that Fuel Cells are the cheapest way to go here- but it's a start.

Rather than re-invent the wheel though- it would be nice if some of the larger carmakers which have each made so much progress- would jump in to this market.

I mean GM used to make buses and trains. Would adding GM's Fuel Cell tech to these airport vehicles be another avenue for them to expand their test and user base?

I am all for these demo projects- but there have been so many federal demos over the years (going back to the 70's) It would be nice to see one Airport to support an "all of the above" approach to reduce emissions significantly.

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