To reduce carbon emissions, the aviation industry will have to consider various solutions, such as system efficiency, technological advances and sustainable aviation fuels to achieve its goals, while also requiring input from governments
Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 will require significant emissions reductions by the aviation industry, which is expected to be achieved through the use of carbon capture technologies, among other initiatives. The aviation industry must continue to make improvements to traditional aircraft to improve performance. “Across the industry, aircraft efficiency has increased on average by about 30 percent between 2005 and 2030,” said Harry Boneham, aerospace analyst at GlobalData.
Improvements in aircraft design, fuel efficiency, engines and materials can have a significant impact on efficiency and sustainability. GlobalData’s Future of Sustainable Aviation webinar explores these issues.
In addition, system efficiency should be examined involving practices such as production technology, airport operations and maintenance, and airspace management.
Commercial aviation is projected to generate 21.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide between 2021 and 2050. Therefore, action must be taken to reduce emissions.
“In terms of future demand, passenger numbers are not expected to decrease, in fact, passenger numbers are expected to continue to increase from 2.05 billion in 2021 to 10.04 billion in 2050,” Boneham said.
For this reason, aircraft efficiency and the use of sustainable aviation fuels have become very important. Aircraft manufacturers are aware of this and are encouraged by the government’s move.
Energy and resource management at the production stage can play a role, as renewable energy can also reduce emissions. Predictive and preventive maintenance can reduce aircraft downtime, improve environmental performance and reduce energy consumption.
Engine technology is also an area where performance and fuel efficiency can be improved with sustainability in mind. Battery technology is important because battery energy density hinders the rollout of all-electric flight.
The use of specific materials also has an impact on sustainability, as the weight of the aircraft increases fuel consumption, which negatively affects emissions. For example, composite materials can reduce the weight of airframes.
There are many features that also increase the efficiency of the aircraft. Canard wings (two sets of wings fore and aft of the fuselage), hybrid wings (fuses the fuselage of the aircraft into the wings) for high lift-to-drag ratios, while truss-supported wings allow for longer, narrower wing.
The fuel consumption and type of fuel used by the aviation industry is an important factor when considering how to achieve net zero emissions.
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) contains lower concentrations of impurities and is usually made from renewable resources such as waste grease, green and municipal waste, and non-food crops.
The main challenge in using SAF is the provisioning issue, which hinders the widespread use of SAF.
Although the use of SAF has increased, it is still used in a 50% blend with conventional aviation fuel. If the use of SAF increases significantly, it could account for 65% of the emissions reductions needed to reach net zero.
Elsewhere, the use of hydrogen in aviation could reduce the industry’s impact by 50 to 75 percent, according to an EU report. This is reflected in various government initiatives around the world that encourage the use of hydrogen in various sectors of the transportation industry.
Passengers are also aware of the impact the airline industry can have. As a result, there have been many initiatives to encourage the use of alternative means of transport.