InnovaTek in Richland will be using a Department of Energy award to develop a technology that would reduce pollution and fuel costs of the airport vehicles used to load baggage, carry luggage and push planes out.
The Port of Benton will help with the project, demonstrating the technology at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco.
"Airports are very focused on trying to reduce pollution," said Patricia Irving, InnovaTek chief executive. "This has applications well beyond airports, but airports are under the gun."
Airport ground support vehicles produce substantial pollution in the ramp areas where baggage and cargo handling takes place, and in some areas of the nation airports are in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. The pollution also threatens the health of workers in the ramp areas.
Electric vehicles are one solution, which also reduces the expense of fuel -- a major driver of the cost of air travel.
However, charging the ground support vehicles can be impractical. Charging can be lengthy and the timing can be unpredictable.
InnovaTek's solution is to add a fuel cell power system to the electric vehicles that would rely on renewable bio-jet fuel to produce electricity to keep the electric vehicle's battery charged.
The on-board charging system would allow longer and farther travel.
DOE has provided $150,000 for Phase I of the project, which should cover establishing the feasibility of the technology. If it proves out, InnovaTek and its team will be eligible for additional grants to develop, demonstrate and commercialize the product.
It is working with EnerFuel, a fuel cell developer, and JBT AeroTech, a ground service equipment manufacturer.
"When the development process is complete this technology will have applications throughout the transportation industry, particularly in battery-powered vehicles that are used over extended periods of time before they can be recharged," Daniel Betts, of EnerFuel, said in a statement.
InnovaTek researchers have developed several generations of advanced chemical processing technologies, including catalysts, microchannel reactors, heat exchangers, fuel injectors and control systems, and the experience was used to develop the core technology to convert bio-jet fuel to hydrogen for a fuel cell.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com.