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Air Force SBIR/STTR Program Manager


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PosiCharge- Fast Charging Electric Vehicles

Say you're at a turnstile at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport waiting to identify your luggage. You might appreciate the fact that the vehicle that moved it from the plane to the airport was powered electrically. If all goes as planned, electric ground support equipment (eGSE) at Sea-Tac will save up to $3 million in energy costs annually and reduce the airport's carbon footprint by 10,000 metric tons a year.

Behind those numbers is an electric battery rapid charging system called PosiCharge®, a technology that allows multiple battery packs to be charged in a station in as little as ten minutes, saving both time and money.

Sea-Tac is one of a host of airports in the United States and abroad using PosiCharge in eGSE vehicles (including forklifts and baggage tractors). Developed by veteran electric vehicle system innovator AeroVironment, Inc., the PosiCharge system allows the battery to be recharged in-vehicle throughout the day.

The technology eliminates the need for a charging room as well as the time required for removal and replacement of the large, heavy battery packs that power eGSE vehicles. Operators charge on breaks and between shifts — taking advantage of vehicle downtime — and vehicles operate 24 hours a day every day.

The PosiCharge system also analyzes the battery's state of charge and temperature and determines the ideal charge current and voltage to deliver to keep the battery in optimal condition.

"We helped pioneer the development and the introduction of safe and effective fast charging," says Steve Gitlin, AeroVironment vice president of marketing strategy, communications and investor relations.

"Fast charging means a fleet operator can move from an eight-hour conventional charge to about an hour and a half fast charge," Gitlin says. "If you were to take two depleted motive batteries — the exact same size, chemistry and age, and they're both at a 20 percent state of charge — the legacy charger will take eight hours to recharge and ours will do it in about an hour and a half. And the fast-charged battery doesn't require another eight hours to cool down. PosiCharge fast charging eliminates off-gassing during normal charging, preserving the health of the battery cells, as well as the need for a battery changing room."

Leslie Stanton, manager of environmental strategy and environmental programs at Sea-Tac, reports that the airport is in process of installing a total of 576 PosiCharge system ports on the airfield next to the terminal. Currently, Alaska and Horizon Airlines are operating 204 eGSEs in the northern half of the airport where installation is complete. The goal is to eventually convert all GSEs to electric airport-wide, she says.

Elizabeth Leavitt, director of aviation planning and environment programs at Sea-Tac, reports that the airport has secured grants and invested in infrastructure to incentivize the purchase of electric ground support vehicles. She hopes providing the infrastructure and help to other airlines will result in them converting their fleets to electric. Sea-Tac has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

"What we're trying to do is make smart investments that lead us to the achievement of our goals," says Leavitt. "We'll go back and look at the source of the greatest emissions and turn our focus to them next."

PosiCharge is used by nearly 3,500 eGSEs in airports and more than 10,000 electric materials handling vehicles in factories and distribution centers. Systems have been deployed in nearly all of the nation's major airports, according to Gitlin, as well as airports in Bogota, Brisbane, Christchurch, Dubai, Hong Kong, Macau, Melbourne, Mexico City, Santiago and Toronto.

Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., wins the honor of being the first to convert to an all-electric GSE fleet with its PosiCharge systems.

A number of car and truck makers have adopted AeroVironment's PosiCharge technology for their manufacturing and distribution operations, including Ford and Toyota, as have other companies such as Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Del Monte and SYSCO. To date more than 10,000 PosiCharge systems have been delivered.

A ten-vehicle PosiCharge system installed by Delta Air Lines at the Albany International Airport is expected to reduce greenhouse gases by 87 percent or about 396 tons annually when compared with diesel fuel use, representing about a 75 percent monetary savings.

PosiCharge technology was developed over the course of several years, with AeroVironment drawing from its decades of research and development in battery charging; the company holds nearly 90 patents.

Phase I and II Air Force Small Business Innovation Research grants totaling more than $1.3 million contributed to the effort. The grants also were used to develop a system to fast charge multiple electric vehicles at a time, Gitlin says. Today AeroVironment's technology is being used in innovations for personal EV charging stations.

"We're now a leader in passenger electric vehicle charging," Gitlin says. "We have more than 20,000 passenger EV charging systems deployed in North America. The initial SBIR grant has not only enabled airports and industries to operate more efficiently but also has allowed us to help thousands of individual vehicle owners make cleaner electric vehicles work for them."

AeroVironment's contributions to innovation and job creation were recognized by the SBIR in 2013 with a prestigious Hall of Fame award. The award, given to only 14 companies since its inception in 2011, "honors small firms judged to exemplify notable lifetime achievement in innovation research and that have achieved extraordinary success as a result of the SBIR program," according to the SBIR website.

AeroVironment founder Paul MacCready was a pioneer in alternative power systems, beginning with a human-powered airplane he developed that was flown across the English Channel in 1979. Solar powered airplanes and racecars quickly followed. Next came the development of the first modern EV, a prototype for the electric car developed by General Motors in the 1990s and the subject of the well-known documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

"Seven of our groundbreaking vehicles are featured in the Smithsonian's collection," says Gitlin. Today the company continues its cutting edge innovation — from its 120/240-volt TurboCord portable charger for EV owners to battery-powered unmanned aircraft systems that provide U.S. and allied Armed Forces with reconnaissance data. The company's unmanned aircraft systems also are used in the field to create highly detailed computer models of pipelines and other infrastructure, help protect endangered wildlife and preserve the environment.

And at Sea-Tac and airports and industries around the world, AeroVironment is changing the way we power our support vehicles, one eGSE at a time.