Airports and Seaports

Ports across the country tap NREL's unique capabilities in resilience, electrification, and large-scale validation and modeling to optimize the energy efficiency and sustainability of their facilities and operations.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

Planes being loaded at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

The Long Beach Container Terminal facility in Long Beach, California

Automated electric cranes unload shipping containers onto autonomous guided, electric vehicles at the Long Beach Container Terminal facility in Long Beach, California. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Airports and seaports look to NREL for decision support and actionable insights to inform their long-term facility, infrastructure, and energy planning efforts. Adapting complex, legacy transportation networks to minimize costs, emissions, and inefficiencies requires new, innovative solutions that NREL is uniquely positioned to offer.

NREL helps major transportation hubs—Los Angeles World Airports, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, the Metro Washington Airport Authority, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Port of Long Beach, and others—understand the full range of options for achieving ambitious energy-saving goals, improving regional air quality, and optimizing the movement of people and goods.

As the only U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transportation, NREL harnesses cutting-edge research and advanced data analytics to help guide mobility transformations at airports and seaports, recognizing that even small changes can make a big difference. NREL's holistic approach employs world-class capabilities based on the customized needs of individual ports—providing tailored support with planning, designing, and implementing practical and cost-effective deployment strategies.

Research Capabilities

With greater connectivity and transportation electrification, more distributed energy assets, intensifying weather events, and increased potential for cyber threats, NREL can mitigate risks to today's energy infrastructure and provide a pathway to a more secure and resilient energy future. Using partner-specific data, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association weather modeling, and world-class high-performance computing and virtual reality capabilities, NREL's resilient energy systems capabilities help partners identify, develop, and optimize risk mitigation strategies to improve overall resilience.
Using NREL's Renewable Energy Integration and Optimization (REopt) platform, researchers evaluate the economics of various supplies and dispatchable loads—grid energy, renewable energy options (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal), diesel, natural gas, energy storage, and dispatchable loads—at a given site. REopt recommends the optimal mix of renewable energy, conventional generation, and energy storage technologies to meet cost savings, resilience, and energy performance goals. It can also identify optimal system sizes and battery/load dispatch strategies to minimize a site's life cycle energy costs and emissions and sustain a site's critical loads during grid outages.

Using data-driven statistical modeling and artificial intelligence, the Athena project helps transportation hubs integrate transformative technologies that support ambitious energy goals. Researchers have developed sophisticated models of current and future mobility requirements in given regions, including a predictive digital twin model of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Pulling data from individuals, traffic, freight routes, flight schedules, autonomous vehicles, and other sources, the model can simulate the impacts of future capacity-expansion scenarios. Such models can also help identify options that maximize the value of passenger and freight mobility per unit of energy or cost in a given region.

The Athena project has produced various publications, data, and tools to help guide mobility transformations at U.S. ports.

NREL's transportation research spans commercial vehicle technologies, electric vehicle grid integration, sustainable mobility, and more. Bolstered by integrated modeling and analysis tools, NREL explores whole-system approaches that combine electric vehicle, building, and infrastructure connectivity and automation to optimize mobility and increase energy efficiency. NREL assists partners with optimal vehicle selection, charging infrastructure, load management strategies, and energy supply decisions. Yard tractors, drayage vehicles, operations vehicles, specialty vehicles, and aircraft ground service equipment are some applications that have been explored in this sector with lessons learned advising the industry's exploration of advanced energy systems for marine and aviation vehicles.

For example, using the REopt platform along with other resources such as the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Projection tool, the Future Automotive Systems Technology Simulator, and the Fleet DNA database of commercial vehicle operating data, researchers can evaluate zero-emission vehicle and charge-management strategies that align with a site's specific vehicle and infrastructure requirements.

With input from NREL, the Port of Long Beach produced the Port Community Electric Vehicle Blueprint, which outlines its path toward zero emissions and provides an economical, demonstrated approach to electric vehicle planning that other California seaports can replicate.

NREL's hydrogen and fuel cell research focuses on hydrogen production, delivery, storage, and fuel cell technologies for transportation, stationary, and portable applications. Under NREL's Electrons to Molecules strategy, renewable hydrogen combined with bio-based carbon or waste carbon dioxide streams can produce net-zero-carbon liquid fuels. These energy-dense fuels are compatible with today's fueling infrastructure and heavy-duty truck, rail, marine, and aviation engines.
NREL bioenergy research ranges from exploring biomass at the molecular level through biorefinery process optimization to bring biofuels and bio-products to market. Core competencies include biochemical conversion, thermochemical conversion, algal fuel/product production, and carbon dioxide reduction to chemical intermediates that can be upgraded to produce fuels, renewable chemicals, and bioproducts. Of particular interest is NREL's work on sustainable aviation fuels and marine biofuels to assess the U.S. biofuel availability, cost, and delivery aspects based on different feed stocks and use cases.
NREL's commercial buildings research is transforming energy use through building energy science and integration. As regional and international transportation hubs, seaport and airport facilities require vast amounts of energy to meet their mission and are at the center of advancements in transportation efficiency. Researchers are expanding the frontier of scientific knowledge to enable optimized energy use, generation, and storage in the built environment at multiple scales. NREL research enhances the resiliency, efficiency, and affordability of building energy systems—for new construction and existing facilities. NREL has a long history of providing technical assistance to improve energy efficiency in real building projects. For example, NREL can analyze heating and cooling loads along with vehicle and process loads for energy arbitrage capabilities, promoting efficiency and minimizing infrastructure upgrades.
NREL's Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) research platform can match the complexity of the modern energy system. It represents a substantial scale-up in experimentation capability, allowing for research at the 20-MW level. The scale of the platform is amplified by a virtual emulation environment powered by NREL's 8-petaflop supercomputer. As applied to transportation system optimization for seaports and airports, ARIES can answer key challenges about optimizing megawatt-scale building loads, charging loads, energy storage, and renewables production.
NREL's world-class data analysis and visualization framework enables rapid exploration of energy system transformation options that integrate advanced technologies with existing infrastructure. The visualization process helps decision makers quickly digest and evaluate alternatives before deploying them in the real world. This approach provides operational assurances under various situations using real-world client and utility data to "de-risk" projects before they are put into action.
NREL's future systems scenarios analysis investigates the potential impacts of expanding renewable technology deployment on grid operations and infrastructure. Integrating higher levels of renewable resources into the U.S. electricity system could pose challenges to the grid's operability. Related studies evaluate the impacts of large-scale renewable energy generation, electric system flexibility and storage, impacts on conventional generators, and transmission infrastructure. This capability helps inform efforts on large transportation campuses as we advise on overall energy needs and resiliency of the transportation system energy delivery. Loads and energy sources to be balanced include transportation, thermal, and process loads necessary to move passengers and goods.
NREL's microgrid research focuses on developing, modeling, and evaluating advanced microgrids. A microgrid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. It can connect and disconnect from the grid to operate in grid-connected or island mode. Advanced microgrids enable local power generation assets—including traditional generators, renewables, and storage—to keep the local grid running even when the larger grid experiences interruptions. Many of our transportation hubs are considered critical assets and some of the first areas that must recover from adverse events for communities to prosper. As energy systems modernize, these critical facilities are ideal locations to consider for the added flexibility and resilience that microgrids can provide.

NREL's cybersecurity research focuses on protecting the grid against future threats. It spans the fundamentals—from cryptography for distributed energy systems to cybersecurity industry standards for interconnecting new devices. With billions of new intelligent, connected electronics entering our grid every year, diligent focus on cybersecurity for an evolving grid is crucial.


Brett Oakleaf

Strategic Partnerships Manager