Moving towards greener GPUs

The trend for users to seek ever more environmentally friendly ground power unit technology is gaining momentum


Weston-super-Mare, UK-based Powervamp is one of the many ramp power suppliers that report a change in the nature of demand for such products in recent times. Sales director James Ackland notes: “The demand for more environmentally friendly equipment is increasing rapidly. Although on the face of it the requirement for ‘green power’ is being led by legislation, it is actually the economics of the environmentally friendly alternative that is driving the demand.
“The maintenance cost alone of a large diesel generator makes the electric alternative a very attractive option,” he explains. “All airports are scrutinising maintenance and fuel costs. The most attractive airport equipment has low maintenance and running costs and high reliability. The Powervamp range is built with these goals in mind.”
Demand might evolve but, for some, the same priorities remain. Saint-Cyr-en-Val, France-headquartered specialist in aircraft power provision Guinault Lebrun has focused its efforts on offering the best possible value for money in regard to its GPUs.
“Our strategy is to maintain a very high level of quality, orientating technical choices to ensure the best total cost of ownership (TCO) in the market,” informs Lionel Clermont, Guinault’s CEO.
Moreover, the current priority lies in offering very tangible alternatives for those still using APUs. “Fundamental expertise in electric technology, power-related electronics and refrigeration allows [us to offer] unconstrained innovation,” Clermont continues. “The specialisation of the company in offering APU substitution is in response to the increasing demand to limit APU usage on the ground.
“This APU reduction objective continues to guide our company’s technical choices and brings a major return on investment.”
But environmental concerns have certainly not been ignored. “Ecological considerations are naturally driven by engine emission standards,” says Clermont. “Guinault Lebrun has already developed alternative solutions from batteries or fuel cells technology.”
Luca Marchiani, technical sales manager with Parma, Italy-headquartered manufacturer Bertoli, insists that the majority of demand for ground power units is still based on diesel power. “As a supplier of diesel-engined GPUs, demand worldwide remains mainly for 90kVA model units with both AC than DC outputs,” he observes.
“We have seen an evolution of requests coming from South-east Asia,” Marchiani continues. “Increasingly being requested is the Stage IIIA engine rather than the Stage II or earlier engines. This denotes greater environmental sensitivity of these countries,” he suggests.
“We aren’t seeing many requests for more environmentally equipment [in the form of battery-powered units]. We have received only from the USA market some quotations for GPUs with lithium battery but the cost of this product is much greater than for standard GPUs.”
However, he opines: “Probably in the coming years this will become a cost-effective solution.” Either way, Marchiani confirms: “We are continuously investing in R&D to find new solutions and get prepared for future market needs.”

Identifiable patterns
Ackland is of the belief that, when it comes to power provision on an airport ramp, all markets are interested in minimal maintenance and high reliability products. “In terms of the emphasis on ‘green power’, the trend is being seen more widely right across the globe,” he considers.
“Environmental legislation is apparent in most areas of the world. Locally, we have noticed smaller UK airports moving away from large, mobile, diesel power to fixed electrical power, such as Powervamp’s PV90-3 GPU. This change is partly driven by environmental legislation but also reduced costs (fuel and maintenance) and increased revenue from airlines for time on stand.”
Elsewhere, remote islands and other locations around the world with a relatively low number of aircraft turnarounds per day are switching from diesel to battery power, Ackand says. Assessing the value of having a wide range of GPUs in a manufacturer’s product portfolio, he continues: “The amount of energy available from Powervamp’s Coolspool battery cart range suits the application well. A reduction in initial investment costs together with zero maintenance, zero fuel burn and silent operation makes these units a very attractive alternative to diesel power.
“Regional airports with a higher volume of aircraft prefer our Coolspool Hybrid GPU, a unit which conforms to the latest US and European emissions standards, provides continuous power for all turboprop type aircraft and offers significant cost savings with respect to fuel burn and maintenance.
“The added benefit for both Coolspool battery cart and Hybrid is that they can be used within the aircraft hangar for continuous operations including avionics updates,” Ackland says.

Adapting the portfolio
How, then, are GPU manufacturers modifying their products to meet changing needs, and what does the future hold? According to Ackland: “Powervamp’s range has always been biased toward ‘green power’ solutions – we are ahead of the curve when it comes to plug-in electric and battery-powered GPUs, and therefore little change is required at this stage.
“We will continue to explore new battery technologies as well as other alternative power sources applicable to our industry. Improvements to efficiency and performance for current product lines are under constant review. “
No industry ever stays still, and that is certainly true of the GPU segment of the GSE market. “For example: “Battery technology is changing rapidly – improved power density, reduced weight and size together with lower prices makes this technology more applicable to the GSE market than ever before,” Ackland says.
“Changes to legislation, in particular new emissions standards for diesel-powered equipment, will have a significant impact on future designs. Updated performance standards for GPUs also have an impact on current designs, where changes/updates may be required for equipment to meet these new standards.”
For Guinault’s Clermont, despite the obvious improvements in battery and advanced fuel cell technology, “The question of the current return on investment of these solutions remains open, both for fuel cells and battery systems; the question of battery life cycle and recycling is also open. More than a technological issue, the question is to define the suitable moment where it will make economic sense for our customers,” he believes.