From an environmental perspective, anything to do with air travel is going to be controversial. But Berlin Airports’ chief executive Dr Rainer Schwartz is keen to point out how comprehensively Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI) – and its construction – will meet sustainability criteria, and indeed set a standard for low environmental impact airport construction worldwide.

For a start, concentrating all of Berlin’s air traffic to a single location will in itself considerably reduce not only carbon emissions, but also noise pollution. Certainly the airport itself will be very much more efficient than its predecessors – and the carbon emissions generated by supplying the infrastructure with its energy needs will be in the region of 38,700 tons a year – half of the equivalent used by Tegel, (the now closed) Templehof, and Schönefeld in a typical year.

Advertisement

BBI is being built largely on agricultural land, although an entire village was relocated (the buildings dismantled and the villagers resettled) on part of the area the site occupies. But Berlin Airports has been as assiduous in its management of the environment as it has been of its relations with local communities. Fauna protection, for example, has included the relocation of several thousand amphibians, including garlic toads, common toads and several species of frog, to purpose-built wetlands.

Further compensatory measures include the planting of several new trees for every tree that has been required to be felled, and ecological monitoring not only of the site itself but adjacent areas, including proposed road and rail connections. Other mitigating or compensatory activities include the upgrading of the Zulowniederung, an area of 260 square kilometres of open lowlands, in order to encourage biodiversity.

Hydrogen station

But the airport will also be showcasing some of the ways in which high-tech can make environmental headway in the 21st century. A perfect demonstration of that trend will be Total’s carbon-neutral filling station, intended to be the world’s first. It will provide hydrogen created from wind power, and will allow Berlin’s burgeoning fleet of hydrogen-powered cars to fill their tanks.

There are already two Total hydrogen filling stations in Berlin. The most recently opened is on Holzmarktstrasse and has been built in co-operation with Statoil and gas and engineering company Linde. The new station will break new ground; gaseous hydrogen is produced directly on the site from electricity and water, and is then compressed and stored in underground composite tanks. Water is split into hydrogen and oxygen via a pressure electrolyser, a process which Total says uses almost 20% less power than previous solutions.

Dual purpose

In addition, a windfarm close to the airport, built by Enertrag, will provide the energy to supply the filling station and power an electrolyser.

There is an extremely receptive climate in both Berlin and Germany for these kinds of technologies, but it will be some time before hydrogen cars take over the world. There is currently a fleet of 47 hydrogen-powered cars in Berlin and four buses, with more on the way. But the point of the programme is to show what is possible, and to point the way toward solutions in a world where energy needs cannot be met by oil alone.

Mr Schwartz says he is delighted that Total has chosen BBI for the carbon-neutral filling station project. Energy efficiency, sustainability – alongside and complementary to passenger choice – are key policy objectives for the company. Wind to hydrogen power is a key step in achieving those goals, and well aligned with the company mission statement.