Environmental Improvements in Aviation
Biomass-derived jet (biojet) fuel has become a key element in the aviation industry’s strategy to reduce operating costs and environmental impacts. Researchers from the oil-refining industry, the aviation industry, government, biofuel companies, agricultural organizations, and academia are working toward developing commercially viable and sustainable processes that produce long-lasting renewable jet fuels with low production costs and low greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, jet fuels must meet ASTM International specifications and potentially be a 100% drop-in replacement for the current petroleum jet fuel. The combustion characteristics and engine tests demonstrate the benefits of running the aviation gas turbine with biojet fuels.
The company utilizes ethanol produced from solid waste and from industrial processes and turns it into 90% kerosene jet fuel and 10% diesel.is not produced from food sources. With no energy used in extracting crude oil from the ground and since the ethanol was already in the carbon cycle, Lanza Jet’s fuel is better for the environment.
In-flight testing has been successful with a variety of commercial aircraft beginning in 2018. LanzaJet’s technology has attracted investment from Royal Dutch Shell, Suncor Energy, Mitsui, and British Airways. LanzaJet is constructing a small refinery in the U.S. which will produce about 10 million gallons of jet fuel by 2023. With the worldwide consumption of jet fuel projected to reach 100 billion gallons per year, more and larger refineries are required to make even a modest environmental impact. https://www.lanzajet.com/
Another focus of development is using alternative energy sources to generate power. Hydrogen is under consideration as the cleanest fuel for future airliners. Airbus is recently rumored to be considering using an A380 to test liquid hydrogen fuel tanks which are required to be kept very cold – at negative 250 degrees centigrade. This is one of several large issues that must be resolved before commercial hydrogen-powered flight becomes a reality. In the interim, smaller hybrid, battery and hydrogen fuel cell applications are in development.
Working with General Motors, Germany-based Liebherr Aerospace, an on-board aircraft system supplier, is developing hydrogen fuel cell power for aircraft.
According to GM Executive Director of Global Hydrotec Charlie Freese, "The fuel cell can bring in the air you’re flying through, then we take hydrogen, which is stored onboard, and combine it to make power and electricity; we can even make heat.” It can also make water, leading to huge fuel and emissions savings. "A fuel cell is clean and the water product can be used to humidify the airplane or we can capture it and use it to flush toilets and sinks," Freese said. "The average aircraft takes off with two tons of water just to flush the toilet. We can now make water in flight.”
Another possibility is the fuel cells, if small enough, could replace miles of wiring in the plane that currently controls sensors and other operating systems, taking off weight and lowering the cost to build the aircraft, Freese said. “The change from the conventional to a hydrogen technology-based electrical power generation system means major systems modifications on board the aircraft that could result in better, more efficient performance of the plane,“ said Francis Carla, chief technology officer at Liebherr-Aerospace. "This we want to prove and test thoroughly."
A significant challenge to the adoption of alternative fuels is cost. Produced at a small scale, alternative fuels currently cost 50%-100% more per gallon than petroleum sourced Jet-A. To build demand for alternative fuels (which would also encourage investment in increasing supply) governments are considering tax incentives. According to Reuters (July 4, 2021), the EU Commission has recently begun considering a new tax on polluting commercial aviation fuels. Alternative fuels would be exempt from the tax. As planned, tax rates will gradually be increased on petroleum-sourced aviation fuels over the next ten years.
The transition to using alternative fuels is underway in commercial aviation. Between governmental regulation, target taxation, and pressure from travelers, every airline will have to demonstrate steps towards reducing the environmental impact of air travel.
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William Surman, CDI Global U.S. & Federico Caligaris, CDI Global Italy
Co-Leaders CDI Aerospace & Defense