Titan Aviation is leading the way in electrifying on-airport refuelling. Moving on from purely electrifying the fuel pumping process, it now offers its refuelling tankers and hydrant dispensers in entirely battery-powered or diesel/electric hybrid variants
Titan Aviation, a supplier of large refuelling tankers and hydrant dispensers as well as a range of other aviation fuelling-related equipment, is part of an ‘industrial alliance’ that incorporates Titan’s UK and Indian subsidiaries as well as other business components.
Titan Aviation itself has production sites in Arnas and Aix-en-Provence in France, plus a plant in Mumbai, India. These factories offer 5,500m2, 4,650m2 and 5,000m2 respectively of production capacity.
Business was undoubtedly hit by the Covid pandemic and the disastrous effect it had on the global aviation industry, commercial director Richard Lewis confesses, but Titan Aviation didn’t stand still. It took the opportunity to invest time and money in research and development (R&D), for example, as well as taking on new employees who are the sort of specialists Titan needs as it transitions to offering sophisticated electric vehicles and equipment.
The move towards more environmentally friendly refuelling vehicles is by no means an unimportant one: a study of ramp activity at France’s Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), for instance, suggests that gas-guzzling refuellers may be responsible for anything up to 17% of the harmful emissions created airside during ground handling at the huge gateway – more than any other form of GSE operating on the ramp.
Meanwhile, the hope is that refuellers will be carrying the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that is likely to play such an important part in the drive towards a more sustainable global aviation industry.
On 18 May 2021, an Air France flight from CDG to Montreal in Canada was powered by a 16% SAF blend, and on the ground it was fuelled from a Titan Aviation fully electric refuelling truck. This was evidence of the important role that Titan can and will play in aviation’s move towards greater environmental responsibility, Lewis suggests, as well as offering further reassurance for those potential customers of electric refuellers and hydrant dispensers who might still have doubts about the validity of the concept of operating big battery-powered refuelling vehicles.
In fact, this is not new technology – there are already numerous Titan Aviation electric refuelling vehicles and hydrant dispensers in operation at numerous locations on different continents, including fully electric and hybrid electric dispensers in Amsterdam and Sweden, Lewis observes.
Plus, Total has been operating a Titan Aviation fully electric refueller at Paris Le Bourget for almost three trouble-free years, and also now has a hybrid version in operation there.
More generally, battery-powered electric hydrant dispensers have been in use at Los Angeles Airport in the US for more than a decade, because of strict Californian emissions rules (although these units are powered by old motor/battery technology). Electric hydrant dispensers are also in use at the new Istanbul Grand Airport in Turkey, in Spain, at Bangkok in Thailand and in Belgium.
In terms of Titan Aviation vehicles, a number of electric refuelling trailers are already in operation in Africa; Airbus France has a hybrid refueller on order; a fixed base operator (FBO) at Nice in France has one on order and more are expected from London and Geneva; and a fully electric 20KL refuelling vehicle was recently delivered to Kerry Airport in Ireland.
The last purchase was funded in large part thanks to an EU grant to encourage the shift towards more environmentally friendly operations. Such financial assistance from multinational, national or state/provincial agencies is not unknown elsewhere, Lewis points out.
“We have moved out of the ‘early adopter’ phase for electric refuelling units,” Lewis insists. Now, the technology is there to support not only the electric pumping of fuel from a diesel-powered vehicle chassis – an important interim step down the road towards fully electric, given that refuellers used to keep their big diesel engines running just to power the refuelling process – but also to power the trailers and dispenser vehicles themselves.
Customers are really beginning to see the value of electric refuelling vehicles, Lewis says. Moreover, they are now starting to actually fund such purchases. Though the electric chassis part might be two or three times the initial purchase cost of a similar diesel-powered unit, the former offer significant total cost of ownership (TCO) savings given the spend on diesel fuel and the cost of maintaining complex diesel engines associated with a conventional model.
Given the frequency of changes in regulations to diesel vehicle operation at airports (and elsewhere), those who operate electric vehicles also save themselves the cost of regularly upgrading or replacing their diesel vehicles, Lewis notes, adding that Titan Aviation has “some excellent tools” for estimating how much can be saved through the use of electric vehicles.
And, of course, the financial savings only add to the significant environmental benefits that hybrid or electric operations can bring.
Titan Aviation’s electric range of vehicles for the civilian market takes in the Titan EZ Flow that offers the facility of ‘engine-off’ refuelling, the Titan-eTR fully electric trailer, the Titan-eRR rigid electric chassis zero emission refueller, the Titan-eHD fully electric hydrant dispenser and the Titan-eSPR large-volume, 100% electric, off-highway refueller.
Its fully electric vehicles offer 100% elimination of harmful emissions, its hybrid variants about 30%.
Existing fully diesel vehicles can also be retrofitted to either the EZ Flow engine-off design or to fully electric if required.
Titan Aviation is working with the UK’s Blackburn-based Electra on chassis designs and construction for its electric variants. Electra – which we met in an earlier issue of Airside (https://www.airsideint.com/issue-article/bespoke-electric-truck-conversions-for-the-ramp/) – specialises in building electric commercial vehicles, typically converting factory-new vehicle chassis without engines or transmissions to full battery-powered units ideal for airport applications.
Together, Electra and Titan Aviation can offer customers – typically the big on-airport fuel suppliers such as the major oil companies, ‘inter-plane operators’ (ground service providers/handlers) and FBOs, as well as, on occasion, airport operators such as Kerry in Ireland – the appropriate battery power packs to ensure optimal performance.
Optimal performance also means that Titan’s electric vehicles can operate effectively for days at a time without needing to recharge. And, while a full charge from zero may take about six hours, Lewis observes: “If the battery is sized correctly and normally only run down by 25%, it means that full charge is possible after only 1.5 hours’ charging.”
Batteries are expected to last approximately eight years without need for replacement, Titan estimates.
There are challenges to be overcome in order to persuade some potential customers to commit the large amount of money needed to buy electric refuellers or hydrant dispensers, not least the initial purchase cost (and many players in the aviation industry still have not replenished their coffers from the tough days of the Covid pandemic). Many also continue to note that such units do not meet their legacy standards/specification documents that were created for diesel vehicles.
These legacy standards/specifications documents might have been written 20 or more years ago though, Lewis points out, at a time when electric heavy commercial truck applications had not even been considered, and when old electric motors featured open ends that generated sparks and got extremely hot. Meanwhile, batteries did not have high-tech battery and thermal management systems.
Of course, the airport ramp is a high-risk environment in which to bring a vehicle filled with and designed to dispense aviation fuel, and logic dictates that soon these outdated standards must be revisited, Lewis argues, both for the environment and for common sense.
Overall, however, these various concerns are now being overridden, Lewis believes. Together with Electra, “We are now the first major player with a fully integrated product offering a truly modular approach designed to work in the harshest of environments and, more importantly, completely safely,” he asserts.