Fraport, the airport operator of Frankfurt Airport, is gradually transitioning its fleet of vehicles to electric drives. At the same time, the charging infrastructure at Germany’s largest air traffic hub is also expanding and evolving. Currently, the charging works traditionally, with power flowing from the charging point into the vehicles’ batteries. However, in the future, the power flow will be bidirectional. This means that electric vehicles can charge their batteries and supply excess power back to the grid.
The technology is not yet ready for widespread use. Interfaces still need to be standardized, particularly for the special-purpose vehicles used for aircraft ground handling. But Fraport plans to overcome these challenges with support from key partners.
Fraport’s Partners in Bidirectional Charging
Fraport has received financial support from the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action to support the implementation of this idea. Over the next four years, Frankfurt Airport will receive more than five million euros as part of Germany’s program to promote electromobility. Additionally, Fraport and its partners will invest another 4.1 million euros in the project.
“Frankfurt Airport is providing an ideal, self-contained field test system for implementing a bidirectional charging infrastructure,” explains Michael Kuschel, the Fraport vice president responsible for power and networks. “Fraport is playing all of the main roles in it: we are both the network operator and its primary consumer. The charging points are part of our own infrastructure, and we are also providing the required software. This unique constellation enables us to model the required test environment despite the fact that not all of the technical and regulatory definitions have been fully formulated yet.”
Also involved in the project is Stromnetz Hamburg GmbH, the owner and operator of Hamburg’s power distribution network. The company will support Fraport in developing the required software. The Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences will monitor the economic and technical aspects. The German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action has put the DLR German Aerospace Center in charge of the project.
Sustainably Stabilizing the Network and Power Supply
“By the year 2045 at the latest, the Fraport Group will achieve zero carbon operation,” explains Kuschel. “Within the scope of our decarbonization strategy, over the years ahead we’ll mainly be focusing on wind and solar energy. This means that in the future, depending on how much power is generated and consumed at any given moment, sometimes there will be too little or too much in the network. It’s impossible to precisely predict either our actual needs or the availability of renewable energy. So we have to develop a system that will let us flexibly and autonomously manage their fluctuations. One of the keys for accomplishing this is intermediate storage.”
Fraport Building a +1200 Strong Fleet of Electric Vehicles
Fraport AG has a fleet of about 650 electrically powered vehicles. It plans to add 600 cars, buses, and dedicated ground-handling vehicles with electric drives by 2026. With bidirectional charging equipment, the storage batteries of this motor pool will collectively constitute a large-scale virtual reservoir. This reservoir will accept and provide constantly changing amounts of electric power. Controlled by sophisticated software, it will manage supply and demand without negatively impacting everyday operations at Frankfurt Airport.
“Fraport’s long-term goal is to introduce bidirectional charging throughout the airport while taking the wide variety of vehicle types used into account,” says Kuschel. “An airport operates critical infrastructure, which makes it essential to consistently ensure a stable network and dependable power supply. This is a major challenge, but once it has been successfully mastered, the system will crucially strengthen the airport. It will also provide attractive economic benefits, since we expect that this migration will also allow us to reduce our expenditures for electric power by making efficient use of available resources.”
The project is expected to take four years to complete. It will start with a 12-month technical planning phase. Fraport will then install nearly 90 bidirectional charging points at the airport over the next three years.
Fraport Considers Extending Bidirectional Charging to Public Infrastructure
In concept, Fraport could extend bidirectional charging to other externally used infrastructure at Frankfurt Airport, such as parking facilities. The project also includes appropriate transfer concepts and business models for the public realm.
“Here we see good prospects for integrating this innovative technology to manage power supply and demand elsewhere and fully tap its economic potential,” states Claus Grunow, Fraport’s Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Digitalization.