Refueling planes at Helsinki Airport is an extensive and challenging operation that puts the refueling stock to a hard test. In fact, the airport is a good place for testing 100% renewable diesel under extremely challenging conditions.
It comes as a surprise to many how huge an operation it is to refuel planes at an international airport.
"For European flights, planes typically require some 10,000 liters. For planes flying to China, Japan and other Asian destinations, the volume of fuel increases to 70,000–80,000 liters”, says Petteri Yli-Ilkka, Neste's Sales Manager in charge of fuel sales at Helsinki Airport.
The refueling trucks have been using 100% renewable NEXBTL diesel already for two and a half years. Neste produces NEXBTL from vegetable oils and diverse waste and residues.
Air quality at the airport improves
Neste uses eight low, custom-built refueling trucks that can drive under airplane wings.
Petteri Yli-Ilkka says that the company wants to contribute to renewable energy becoming more commonplace.
"We are investigating opportunities for using biofuels in airplanes at the airport. The aim of the Helsinki Green Hub project is for aviation fuel to contain renewable fuel. We want to show a good example by using 100% renewable fuel in our refueling stock."
Another aim is to improve air quality at the airport. NEXBTL burns more cleanly than fossil diesel, so using it reduces local emissions in the airport area. This benefits both passengers and the airport employees.
Fuel in a hard test
The project also seeks a different kind of a benefit. "We wanted to gain experience of using renewable diesel in heavy equipment and an extremely demanding environment," Yli-Ilkka says.
Even though refueling trucks do not drive long distances, they build up a lot of operating hours. The engine of the truck runs the pump used for refueling the plane, so the engine is under a hard strain throughout the refueling process.
This strain can be increased by the weather conditions. Yli-Ilkka reminds us that the major fluctuations in Finnish weather are highlighted at the airport. Strong winds make sub-zero winter temperatures even fiercer. In the summer, the black tarmac accumulates heat and makes hot periods even hotter.
How has 100% renewable diesel worked under these conditions?
"The experiences have been purely positive. We have experienced no problems, with either older or newer stock," Yli-Ilkka says.
"We can now say that we have tested 100% NEXBTL in continuous use ourselves. Everything has worked excellently at all times of the year and under all conditions."
Neste refuels 40% of planes
Fuel is pumped into an airplane at a rate of up to 2,800 liters a minute. This is equivalent to filling up the fuel tanks of some fifty passenger cars in a minute. Nevertheless, refueling a wide-body plane takes about half an hour.
The refueling volumes for the entire airport are many times that. Helsinki Airport has approximately 250–300 departures a day. Neste refuels some 40% of these flights.
The majority of operations take place at certain peak times of the day. There are morning and afternoon peak hours at the airport. The busiest in terms of refueling is the afternoon, when wide-body planes from the Far East land.
"Refueling operations must be planned carefully, as planes generate revenue only when they are in the air. Therefore, the aim is to minimize the time they spend on the ground," Yli-Ilkka says. "The refueling trucks must be operational every day of the year under all conditions."