Is greener and sustainable air travel possible?
The demand for air travel services has surged at an unprecedented rate in recent years and it continues increasing. Reports show that the number of scheduled passengers boarded by the global airline industry reached over 4.54 billion people in 2019 and is anticipated to hit 4.7 billion in pre-COVID and 2.2 billion in post-COVID in 2020. However, the increased volume of air travel globally is causing a severe impact on the environment. Global aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018. The industry’s carbon emissions grew by 75 percent from 1990 to 2012, and it is expected to continue to grow rapidly until 2050.
While many sectors begin reducing their emissions, the aviation industry is now deliberately upping its eco game, leading to green aviation. NASA explains green aviation a term used to describe activities in the industry that improve aircraft efficiency and lower noise pollution and greenhouse gases, while in turn minimizing carbon emissions.
In 2019, Etihad Airways and Boeing established an eco-partnership to cut CO2 emissions in the sky. In this way, Etihad Airways powered a Boeing 787 Dreamliner using a mix of jet and biofuel made from Salicornia, a plant that grows in the Abu Dhabi desert. In addition to this, over 170,000 flights to date have used biofuel blends, including Qantas Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Alaska Airlines.
Hybrid Fuel and Electric Models to Power Green Aviation
Undoubtedly, the unprecedented rise in fossil fuel consumption has made energy sustainability need of the hour. As the fossil fuel and the carbon emission from it cause environmental impact, NASA calls on the aeronautic industry to lessen aircraft fuel burn by 70 percent by 2025 in their N + 3 concepts. Developing hybrid fuel consumption and electric aircrafts technologies could have a considerable impact on the environment. Similar to hybrid cars, the technology coalesces two sources of power, fuel and an electric battery or hydrogen fuel cell.
As noted by Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine, Dr. Xavier Roboam, a senior scientist and deputy director at the LAPLACE lab at the University of Toulouse in France said that ” By hybridizing sources, you can reduce the fuel burn of aircraft and therefore the environmental impact.” As hybrid planes are more promising in helping with the weight issue, Roboam and his colleagues are looking at how the weight of a plane can be further reduced as part of the HASTECS project. The project aims at supporting the demonstration of radical aircraft configurations through models and tools development that can help the designers in analyzing key benefits of architectures and power management of hybrid-electric propulsion.
Already, aerospace engineers at Siemens, Boca Raton, FL., EADS, Herndon, VA., and Diamond Aircraft, London, Ont., Canada, field-tested the DA36 E-Star, a plane that is a stepping-stone between gas power and a pure electric vehicle. The plane is the first aircraft to use electric power from a generator driven by a small gas engine. E-Star’s serial-electric hybrid drive allows the aircraft to take off quietly and cuts fuel consumption and emissions by up to 25 percent.
Therefore, fostering research and development to develop less fuel consumption and eco-friendly aircraft propulsion technologies could lead to the development of hybrid and electric aircraft. These aircraft will have a significant impact on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions.