An electric ambulance has entered service at Italy’s Torino (Turin) Airport. Torino is the first airport in Italy, and amongst the first in Europe, to use a CO2-neutral vehicle to provide medical assistance to passengers and other airport users. Powered by two 100A/h lithium batteries which have an operating range of up to 6 hours and which can be fully recharged in about 4 hours, the electric ambulance represents part of the process of replacing the airport’s fleet with hybrid or fully electric vehicles. Airside talks to Andrea Andorno, CEO of Torino Airport, about the gateway’s prioritisation of environmentally friendly equipment
Has being a ‘green’ airport been an important priority for Torino Airport for some time?
Torino Airport has been working for years to be more efficient and sustainable. In July 2021 we launched the Torino Green Airport project, which brings together all the initiatives put in place in the past, those under way and those to come to make the airport even more sustainable.
A strong positioning on the environmental sustainability of an airport infrastructure represents today – and will increasingly represent in the future – a counter to the growing criticism associated with the environmental impact of the air transport industry.
The Torino Green Airport environmental sustainability path has therefore been developed with a precise strategy: through the implementation of direct interventions, it aims to involve not only the employees of [Torino Airport operator] SAGAT Group, but also the entire airport community, commercial partners, suppliers and passengers.
Torino Green Airport represents a strategic driver of the development of Torino Airport. In order to educate and raise awareness in every single component of airport business, it has also become the subject of a communication plan (involving the creation of a new brand characterised by the blue logo of Torino Airport with the switch toward the green of Torino Green Airport).
Decarbonisation is a must not only for us, but for the whole industry as well. Our strategy has been structured in two phases: the first, covering 2010-2020, in which emissions were reduced through energy efficiency measures that halved the site’s primary energy consumption; the second, currently under way, is based on the decarbonisation of energy supplies.
Torino Airport’s strategy is consistent with the NetZero 2050 approach and with the commitments referred to in the Toulouse Declaration [signed in February 2022 and concerning the future sustainability and decarbonisation of aviation].
Does making your airside operations more environmentally friendly by means of electric GSE represent an important aspect of your strategy of improving the airport’s sustainability and minimising its environmental footprint?
We have been renewing the airport’s fleet as well as non-airport vehicles with the aim of moving to hybrid or fully electric vehicles, a process that has already allowed us to carry out some airport turnaround activities in a ‘100% green’ way, zeroing the emission of CO2 into the environment.
We are aware that the sustainability of our operations must drive the development of the airport: that’s why we are proud to be able to offer airlines that choose our airport a zero-impact turnaround, thanks to the investment we have made on the continuous renewal of our fleet with electric vehicles.
How much electric GSE do you currently have in operation on your ramp?
SAGAT Group has a total of 12 electric GSE units in operation on the ramp at Torino. These are: one ground power unit (GPU); two sets of passenger stairs; five baggage tractors; two conveyor belts/belt loaders; one aircraft pushback tug; and one ambulift.
Moreover, four electric airside service vehicles are currently in operation (the ambulance, one vehicle for security management, one vehicle for executive services and one vehicle used by the maintenance department).
One more electric vehicle is coming soon for airfield operations and we are defining new walk-in/walk-out procedures to drastically reduce airport bus use.
Other handlers have a total of 29 pieces of electric GSE: National Cleanness with 18 baggage tractors and Aviapartner with eight baggage tractors and three conveyor belts.
How do you go about encouraging your ground service providers to use electric (or hybrid?) GSE? Has that policy proved successful?
We encourage ground service providers to use electric/hybrid GSE by offering them the lowest electricity rate on the market.
And are your handlers prioritising the use of electric GSE?
We are aware that decarbonisation is a must for the whole industry; that’s why we encourage our ground service providers to use electric vehicles. As detailed above, it is not only the SAGAT Group but also other handlers operating on our apron that are using electric GSE.
A total of 41 items of GSE operating on our apron are currently electric. SAGAT Group is aiming to have 40% of its whole airside and landside fleet either fully electric or hybrid by the end of 2023.
Aside from electric GSE and vehicles such as the ambulance, what other green infrastructure or equipment do you have operating airside at Torino?
The airport’s decarbonisation pathway for energy supply is based upon the transformation of the airport into a smart grid – ie, the creation of a flexible hub that dynamically stores and exchanges energy with the outside world so as to optimise the use of on-site and locally produced renewable energies such as photovoltaics, biogas/biomethane and green hydrogen.
Key to this are a number of projects that the airport is currently involved in. For instance, as a member of the TULIPS consortium (demonsTrating lower pollUting soLutions for sustaInable airPorts acrosS Europe) SAGAT is developing a pilot plant to study the interaction between different components characterising a smart grid: a photovoltaic system, different storage systems (a battery and an electrolyser with its hydrogen storage), a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) powered by methane and hydrogen (in blend), the external network and the load.
One of the main goals is to introduce a hydrogen-based system within an airport perimeter and to test a hydrogen-fed SOFC fuel cell at different percentages of blend with natural gas.
We have recently completed the preliminary design of a hydrogen-ready trigeneration system based on molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) technology. The adoption of this technology will reduce considerably the carbon dioxide emissions of the airport and substantially eliminate CO, NOx [nitrogen oxide] and particulate emissions.
This new generation fuel cell is also ready to be fed with up to 40% hydrogen. The mid/long term target is to create the logistic and technological conditions to feed the fuel cells with increasing percentages of green hydrogen right up to 100%.
As this plant in its early years would use methane to produce electricity and heat, its feasibility will largely depend on recent developments in the energy market and on the possibility of obtaining public funding for such an innovative project.
Within the same TULIPS purview, an experimental demonstration of a hydrogen-powered GPU is expected to be performed at Torino Airport in late 2024.
Moreover, we have just completed the roof covering of the airport’s passenger terminal with photovoltaic panels which, when fully operational in the third quarter of 2023, will be able to generate up to 12% of the airport’s yearly energy needs (and up to 57% of hourly consumption in a sunny day in May).
We also obtained Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) Level 3 optimisation certification at the end of 2022 and we are partners in European research projects such as TULIPS and AZEA aimed at studying solutions to make the entire industry even more sustainable.
Torino Airport co-operated with Ardian in realising the tool Air Carbon, a next-generation platform for airports to efficiently manage their carbon emissions. This pioneering tool in carbon footprint management relies on real-time operational data coming directly from airports’ information systems and also enables forecasts for carbon trajectories. Air Carbon has helped Torino Airport to reach new milestones, such as the ACA Level 3 optimisation.
Finally, in 2022 4 hectares of land were planted with rye grass and biochar – a carbonaceous material obtained by thermal degradation of biomass – added as part of an experimental element of the European TULIPS project, designed to demonstrate the benefits of carbon sequestration in airport areas.