Posted Jul 22, 2022, 7:30 AM
In Farnborough, the hotter it got, the more people talked about “net zero emissions” and “sustainability”. For fear of becoming the scapegoat of climate defenders, aeronautics professionals are all looking for the Holy Grail.
At the major British Air Show, press releases on technological agreements for the decarbonisation of air transport almost outnumbered aircraft orders! Between the “frugal” engine, research on hybrid electric propulsion or on hydrogen and sustainable fuels, the aircraft of the future and materials, it is impossible to keep track of all the promised technological advances.
The number one topic in the industry
The decarbonization of air transport has become the number one issue in the sector, believes the boss of the Rolls-Royce engine manufacturer, Warren East, who is firing on all cylinders on the subject. Rolls Royce has thus announced a partnership with easyJet, H2ZERO, to test an “early concept” of a hydrogen engine. The British group also announced an agreement with Korean Hyundai to develop electric propulsion systems and fuel cells for urban air mobility, or a research program on hydrogen propulsion.
The prototype of its Ultrafan engine was also alone on the engine manufacturer’s stand, its promise being to reduce the fuel consumed by long-haul flights by 25%. Electric propulsion, now imagined as support in hybrid aircraft, will never be enough for long haul flights. Sustainable fuels or hydrogen, all the solutions are being studied. Airbus has thus promised a first hydrogen plane in 2035.
But is hydrogen really a solution? Certainly, this aircraft will not emit CO2, but it will emit more water vapor than a conventional combustion engine. However, under certain conditions of humidity and temperature, the water vapor resulting from the combustion is transformed into ice crystals which form streaks which are transformed into cirrus, these high clouds in the form of white filaments. This is called contrails. And in the field, scientific debates are lively. Some researchers believe that these contrails prevent radiation from the Earth from escaping and also contribute to global warming…
To advance the debate, Airbus announced an experiment called “Blue Condor” conducted on the basis of Perlan gliders. The manufacturer will equip a glider with a basic hydrogen engine in order to study the composition of contrails. This glider will fly this winter at an altitude of more than 10,000 meters in the sky of North Dakota (United States), a place conducive to the formation of contrails. Another glider will be equipped with a kerosene-powered engine and a third “sniffer” aircraft will analyze and compare the composition of the emissions from the two aircraft.
Buy carbon credits
“We need to better understand the other atmospheric impacts of different propulsion technologies. We know what to do for CO emissions2, we know a lot less about NOx (nitrogen oxides) and contrails,” explained Sabine Klauke, Chief Technology Officer at Airbus. Airbus hopes to have the first results of its campaign in the spring of 2023.
In the meantime, Airbus and seven airlines announced on Monday that they had signed a letter of intent to buy 400,000 tonnes of CO credits.2 which will be captured from the air and stored underground in the United States. The aircraft manufacturer, along with Air Canada, Air France-KLM, easyJet, IAG, Latam, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, have concluded this partnership with the firm 1PointFive, which is beginning the construction of a capture and storage site in the Permian basin of the Texas. This will be operational in 2024.
The technology, known as direct airborne capture, aims to capture CO2 in the air using powerful fans, powered by electricity from solar panels, and storing it at a depth of nearly 2,000 meters. “Direct carbon capture from the air is an emerging technology with enormous potential,” said easyJet’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Jane Ashton. This will be an essential part of our path to net zero,” she says.