Although responsible for just 2% of the air transport sector’s total carbon emissions, airport operators have increasingly sought to decarbonise their operations.

A new report titled ‘The viability of Carbon Capture at Airports using Innovative Approaches’ released through a collaboration between Cranfield University and London Luton Airport (LLA) aimed to answer questions around the viability of clean tech solutions to decarbonise the airport.

Carrying more than 50 million passengers in the past five years, LLA is one of the UK’s busiest airports.

Reporting 388 movements per 24 hours on average in 2019, the airport sees a tremendous number of flights going in and out of the city, contributing to a sky-high level of CO2 emissions. 

With carbon capture technologies slated by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to play a ‘significant’ part in the global climate response, carbon capture and storage – or CCS – could play a key role in decarbonising the aviation industry. 

The study - which also looked at Aberdeen Airport, Indira Gandhi International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport - aimed to accelerate carbon reduction by exploring the potential of emerging technologies within the carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) sector. 

Stating that the collaboration provides ‘timely, valuable insight’ into CCS technologies, David Vazquez, Head of Sustainability at LLA, added, “Although we recognise there will be some emissions that we cannot reduce in the short-term, LLA is committed to achieving carbon neutrality in 2023 and Net Zero for airport operations by 2040.” 

One of the emerging technologies looked at in the study was direct air capture (DAC), a technology that works by capturing CO2 in the air before either storing it permanently underground or using it to manufacture carbon neutral fuels.

DAC took a major step forward last year following the launch of Climeworks’ large-scale Orca project.

Read more: ‘World’s largest’ direct air capture and storage plant

After examining six different types of CCUS engineering-based solutions, the study concluded that by combining DAC with green hydrogen technology and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the UK could advance its Net Zero ambitions.

“The case airports involved in this report recorded CO2 emissions in the range of 50 to 100 kilo tonnes of CO2 per annum,” said Dr. Chikage Miyoshi, co-aithor of the report and lead for Sustainable Aviation Systems Laboratory at Cranfield University.

”There are various sources of emissions at an airport ranging from electrical generation through to ground operations.”

These sources include emissions from passenger surface access, which is the way customers reach the airport, discovered to be the second largest emissions source after aircraft emissions.

He added, “Based on current technology, it is estimated that for CCUS engineering measures at LLA, up to 0.04 - 2.5km2, would be required. Some aspects could be introduced by airports working with local power stations.”

The full report will be published at the end of August on the Cranfield University website.