The awareness of global warming and its effect on the planet has grown in scope over the last decade. Public pressure has forced governments and big business into action on an unprecedented scale. It is one of the first major issues that has required worldwide co-operation between governments. As a result, industries around the globe are tasked with finding greener solutions in their sectors. Nowhere has this hit harder than the aviation industry. The aerospace industry is responsible for an enormous amount of CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately, flying is much more harmful to the environment than other forms of transport. For example, you’ll contribute ten times more CO2 flying from London to Paris than taking the Eurostar. A trip from London to Sydney uses the equivalent of half your annual carbon footprint. Why is it so bad? Well, quite simply, jet engines are built differently to typical combustion engines. They require a very specific breakdown of oxygen to function. In essence, you can’t just create a hybrid engine and run an airline on electric motors!
The aviation industry faces a very difficult task of finding alternative fuel sources. But, progress is being made across the world. Concept planes are emerging from manufacturers with the potential to change the nature of flight. There is no one confirmed answer or route just yet, but there are some fascinating ideas on the table. Today we’re exploring exactly what those options are.
Renewable sugarcane energy
Perhaps the strangest headline to come from this development is that sugar might be the saviour! Scientists have developed a method of extracting energy from sugarcane to power a plane. It involves converting the ketones from sugar biomass. By turning these into heavier compounds, they can then be used as aviation fuel. It’s a unique and exciting discovery, but it remains to be seen if it will work on a large scale. Many aviation experts consider it their best option.
Hydrogen power is a controversial topic across many engineering sectors. The world’s first commercial hydrogen fuel cell car will hit the roads this year. Some experts hope the technology will transfer to the aerospace sector too. It’s a complex process, but there is a simple reaction at its core. The engine would combine hydrogen with oxygen to unlock the positive electrons. This would be converted into electricity while the only output is water. The biggest hold-up here is the ability to harvest and store the initial hydrogen.
Lighter and more efficient components
Until a fuel revolution is possible on a mass scale, the best option is to amend the existing structure. Scientists are slowly taking steps to make existing designs lighter and more efficient. Everything on an airplane is now recyclable and biodegradable in an effort to reduce the overall carbon footprint. That includes biocidal wipes, food containers and cleaning products. Experts are also experimenting with lightweight exoskeletons and luggage airbeds. These techniques will drastically reduce the weight and ultimately require less fuel.
We’re a long way from a solution. While the car market has found its eureka moment with hybrid engines, the aviation sector has a more difficult job on its hands.