Dynamic Aviation Development must also deal with Green Goal
Alternative Fuel Search holds great promise
Broad Range of Efforts captured in this Post
In aviation’s almost 120 years, the current period represents some of the most dynamic growth in terms of aircraft technology- eVTOL, autonomous flight, innovations in satellite navigation, avionics, wing design, more efficient fuselages and more. While that expansion is occurring, global forces are demanding that all forms of flight minimize impacts on the environment.
As the below articles and reports evidence, development of new fuel sources is essential to aviation’s future. The breadth of involvement spans from refiners, experts in other energy which can be included on board, national and international governmental agencies, manufacturers of traditional airframe & powerplant manufacturers, entrepreneurs with battery development, Universities, associations, think tanks, environmental advocates and those who have some vision of how to fulfill this green goal. A selection of commentaries on the upsides, challenges, creative research, government support, operators and OEMs’ investments and academic assessments has been displayed in this next section.
The diversity of efforts, the variety of opinions and the opinions expressed prevent an effort to summarize these views. Hopefully the presentation will encourage you to read through them and to extract information relevant to your position within the industry.
ON THE RADAR
- CHARLES ALCOCK
- AUGUST 9, 2022
- SOURCE: HYDROGEN AIRCRAFT AND IMPLICATIONS FOR AVIATION INFRASTRUCTURE
Hydrogen propulsion is emerging as an increasingly favored path to net zero carbon air transport, with several companies working on technology for both new and converted aircraft. But certifying hydrogen-powered aircraft is just one part of the equation, with the industry facing myriad complex considerations about how the operations will be supported, and how environmentally sustainable and commercially viable they might prove to be in practice.
These are the questions that Alton Aviation Consultancy has addressed in a new white paper entitled Hydrogen Aircraft and Implications for Aviation Infrastructure, authored by Mabel Kwan, Joshua Ng, and Zhen Ying Cheah. On balance, the company views the fuel as a strong prospect for cutting carbon levels, with the proviso that green hydrogen production, which involves splitting water via electrolysis, is by some distance the cleanest option.
Alton’s team is urging the industry to take a hard look at the inevitable trade-offs in aircraft performance that a transition away from fossil fuels will entail. They also spell out in some detail the significant need for investment in the complex infrastructure required to underpin the widespread availability of hydrogen, which the white paper stresses is by no means a flawless solution to aviation’s environmental challenges.
According to Ng, having had a somewhat hands-off involvement in the push to decarbonize aviation in the early years of the 21st century, governments are now being more assertive, and not a moment too soon. “Governments are now trying to organize industry [to make the right moves] with both penalties and incentives,” he told FutureFlight. “The role of government has to be coordinated because the industry can’t just move carbon emissions from one pocket to another. We hope governments will have a more global perspective and apply solutions globally.”
Just as airlines have opted not to compete on safety standards, Alton believes, companies will need to treat decarbonization as a common goal across the industry. “There needs to be full transparency with [progress] measured and recorded,” commented Kwan. “The industry needs to pursue long-term goals based on consensus, because if [governments] set too much of a quantitative goal the industry might not be ready. There should be milestone targets, but not a homogenous, arbitrary target. Targets, even with fairly small gains, can be important demand signals to suppliers that can translate into investment.”
However, in Alton’s view, new-generation aircraft are not yet well enough defined to give airport and airline planners the information they need to make detailed preparations for service entry. But the consultancy welcomes initiatives increasingly backed by policymakers to get the supply side of the equation ready through research and development work on infrastructure and exercises to boost green hydrogen production with backing from other transportation and industrial sectors.
Alton also advocates increased activity to determine how airspace use and air traffic management will need to evolve to take account of hydrogen-powered aircraft. Factors such as anticipated lower cruise altitudes and slow refueling process need to be on the table, says the company, which is active in advising both governments and private sector agents with work such as use-case analysis and strategic reviews.
“We tell customers that there has to be more than just a technological solution,” said Kwan. “It has to permeate corporate cultures and also their talent pools. It has to be a win-win for everyone, and we are increasingly seeing investors looking at sustainability as part of a long-term strategy.”
- Sustainable Aviation Fuels
The U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) empowers energy companies and aviation stakeholders by supporting advances in research, development, and demonstration to overcome barriers for widespread deployment of low-carbon sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
SAF made from renewable biomass and waste resources have the potential to deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel but with a fraction of its carbon footprint, giving airlines solid footing for decoupling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from flight.
The U.S. Department of Energy is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal government agencies to develop a comprehensive strategy for scaling up new technologies to produce SAF on a commercial scale.
Learn more about this multi-agency strategy on the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge site.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel: Safe, Reliable, Low Carbon
SAF is a biofuel used to power aircraft that has similar properties to conventional jet fuel but with a smaller carbon footprint. Depending on the feedstock and technologies used to produce it, SAF can reduce life cycle GHG emissions dramatically compared to conventional jet fuel. Some emerging SAF pathways even have a net-negative GHG footprint.
SAFs lower carbon intensity makes it an important solution for reducing aviation GHGs, which make up 9%–12% of U.S. transportation GHG emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A Menu of Sustainable Feedstocks for Producing SAF
An estimated 1 billion dry tons of biomass can be collected sustainably each year in the United States, enough to produce 50–60 billion gallons of low-carbon biofuels. These resources include:
- Corn grain
- Oil seeds
- Other fats, oils, and greases
- Agricultural residues
- Forestry residues
- Wood mill waste
- Municipal solid waste streams
- Wet wastes (manures, wastewater treatment sludge)
- Dedicated energy crops.
This vast resource contains enough feedstock to meet the projected fuel demand of the U.S. aviation industry, additional volumes of drop-in low carbon fuels for use in other modes of transportation, and produce high-value bioproducts and renewable chemicals.
- SAF from wet waste, National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Drawing on stores of carbon energy in cheap, widely available food waste, animal manure, and other wastes with high water content, SAF from wet waste is a carbon-negative fuel.
- Bio-based polycyclic alkane SAF, Los Alamos National Laboratory: If upgraded with ultraviolet light and catalysts, bio-acetone made from a range of biomass resources, like corn stover or bioenergy crops, can yield SAF with 12% more energy than conventional jet fuel.
- SAF from carbon-rich waste gases, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: Waste carbon monoxide from industrial processes can be captured and upgraded with bacteria into ethanol for easy conversion into “alcohol-to-jet” SAF.
Government and Think Tank Reports
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