Published December 6th, 2021 at 1:13 PM
About one year ahead of opening, Kansas City today ramped up efforts to make sure its new $1.5 billion airport will be among the most environmentally sustainable airports in the nation.
Southwest Airlines, the dominant carrier serving the city, has taken note. A top Southwest executive said Monday the airline is ready to explore forging a pact that would make Kansas City International Airport its chief sustainability hub for trialing new technologies as part of efforts to sharply throttle carbon emissions.
KCI first signaled its green ambitions several weeks ago when it revealed plans to erect a 300 megawatt solar farm at the airport, a first for a municipality, as first reported at Flatland.
KCI today is announcing that its airport electric buses linking economy parking with its sparkling new terminal will recharge wirelessly — on the fly, so to speak — which would make it the first airport in the world with that capability.
The vehicles will be wholly free of “range anxiety,” allowing them to be up and running all day long along a seven-mile loop. The vehicles will not be required to be tethered by wire for periodic recharging during possible peak passenger traffic periods.
“The concept is exciting — visionary,” Jason Van Eaton, a Southwest Airlines senior vice president who oversees airport affairs, said of KCI’s sustainability efforts on multiple fronts.
Kansas City quietly signed a contract with Momentum Dynamics, a Pennsylvania company, less than a year ago to design a wireless charging system that was installed about eight weeks ago, said Andrew Daga, Momentum’s president and CEO.
Electric cables were embedded in the new terminal’s roadway that will power two charging pads — four squares each — to be installed at the new terminal garage once heavy construction is completed, Daga said. They will be operational in snow, rain or even flooding, sending power magnetically across an eight-inch air gap to a plate on the underside of the airport’s EV buses.
The cost of the turnkey technology is $200,000 per ground unit and about $40,000 to retrofit each bus, Daga said. The system will require no human operators but will provide a steady stream of data on charging system performance that KCI can monitor remotely, Daga said.
“The bus charges a few minutes at a time, enough to operate and come back and keep the battery full,” Daga said.
KCI is pleased with this new capability.
Aaron Kaden, acting fleet manager at the Kansas City Aviation Department, said: “Inductive charging was not only an efficient solution in terms of monetary outlay and ongoing costs, but was the only system we found that can deliver energy without the traditional plug-in infrastructure.”
Kansas City and KCI have turned to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, for guidance on best adapting cutting edge energy technology. Brett Oakleaf, NREL partnership manager, said that the many energy innovations being explored by the city will have widespread benefits.
“It shows initiative by KCI to address and integrate sustainability that will only serve them to be better operationally in the future,” Oakleaf said Monday.
Van Eaton of Southwest Airlines said: “For Kansas City to take on such a challenge shows the forward thinking of Kansas City leaders. The goal of being one of if not the most sustainable airport — we’re very excited Kansas City is going after … We want to do our part to match that commitment on the ground and in the air.”
Southwest serves 121 airports in 11 countries. The airline aims to be net zero emissions by 2050 and achieve carbon neutrality in 2030 as measured against 2019 levels. Such goals are tough to achieve because the airline industry is one of the most difficult to decarbonize, Van Eaton said.
The airline is still in the early stages of learning more about plans at KCI.
“We want to be a partner with the city as they look at opportunities,” Van Eaton said.
The airline could potentially upgrade half of its 62 ground support equipment (GSE) units with electric vehicles as charging infrastructure on the tarmac becomes operational, he said.
“We will be as flexible as possible,” Van Eaton said.
Van Eaton, who was born in Monett, Missouri, and worked for former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, said he is not surprised that Kansas City wants to make sure the new airport terminal will be a trendsetter for decades to come.
When KCI opened in 1972, it boasted an innovative design, he said. He said the city, a center for many leading national engineering and architecture firms, is about to seize that reputation anew.
“The construction of the new terminal will certainly be a highlight in the aviation community around the country,” Van Eaton said.
On top of that, bringing the latest EV charging technology into the airport operations, national energy leaders say, could help propel Kansas City to the front ranks of urban centers seeking to transform mass transit.
Daga of Momentum Dynamics said his company today is talking with Kansas City about opportunities to expand use of its wireless charging technology to power a bus shuttle from downtown to the airport.
On the horizon, he said, could be deployments of the wireless charging units at Kansas City Area Transportation Authority terminals.
Taxi stands at the airport or in front of hotels could use the units to charge vehicles that would be billed by the local utility, Daga said.
This could be a significant boost to city efforts to help host the 2026 World Cup Soccer Games, since the sport’s FIFA governing body has said it will evaluate 17 cities’ commitment to clean, sustainable initiatives such as EV transport in picking 11 cities to host games. Kansas City is vying to be a host city and reap the attendant financial and economic development rewards.
The timing could not be better for Kansas City, Daga said, with massive U.S. federal government infrastructure spending on the way.
In fact, the seemingly small bus charging initiative at KCI unveiled today could be the tip of the spear for the city’s efforts to do an end-run around massively expensive light rail and facilitate installation of a far-flung electric transport alternative that operates on rubber wheels.
“We hope to do it within a year,” Daga said. “This technology is available and ready now. … We want to make Kansas City one of the showcase communities in the world in electrifying mass transit.”
Martin Rosenberg is a Kansas City writer and host of the U.S. Department of Energy “Grid Talk” podcast on the future of electricity, smartgrid.gov/gridtalk.