How Fuel Design and Other Advances Will Transform Aviation

16 May 2019

Flying has become a routine part of many people’s lives, but the environmental cost, especially the carbon footprint due to use of fossil fuels, is significant. However, there are a number of initiatives in development, including advances in fuel design and more efficient aircraft, that will make aviation more cost-effective and sustainable.

Aerodynamics and Emerging Fuels

Planes of the future may be constructed of lighter materials, including composite materials such as carbon fibre, which will weigh less than aircraft made of metal elements, and this will improve fuel economy.

Better aerodynamics will also reduce friction and help aircraft derive maximum efficiency from the fuel they use. Winglets have now been fitted to thousands of planes, and these help to reduce drag and can cut an aircraft’s emissions by up to six per cent.

Biofuels may also be used to propel planes of the future and will produce fewer emissions than traditional fossil fuels. With intelligent fuel design, evolving energy sources could cut plane emissions by between 50 and 70 per cent of what they are now.

Harnessing Technology

Advances in technology that sense changes in weather patterns and can use this to inform the choice of more efficient flight paths are becoming a reality. By updating flight paths to avoid large storms and areas of disruptive turbulence, fuel economy is increased, and emissions are reduced. Navigation systems with inbuilt flexibility can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced during a flight by several tonnes. This kind of initiative, when applied to many jet fleets around the world, will have a significant impact on the environmental effect of global aviation.

The ways planes take off and land will also have an effect on fuel economy and emissions. Jet engines are generally more efficient when operating at high altitudes, so getting planes to that optimal altitude faster and keeping them there longer will be good for the environment. If aircraft can take off and land in more direct ways, this will boost fuel economy and keep emissions at a lower level.

Even the design of airports can have a direct effect on fuel economy and emissions produced. More airports are going green with less wasteful systems and introducing alternative energy sources such as solar panels. With more efficient operations on the ground, fuel can be saved and emissions cut. Many airports are now using electric-powered vehicles to move goods and personnel around, which is reducing emissions and saving fuel. When you consider that a large airport can use as much energy as a city with a hundred thousand people, then airport initiatives to improve efficiency can make a big difference.

No one wants to stop flying, but changes are necessary to the aviation industry as we know it to reduce its negative impact on the environment. By giving fuel economy a boost and supporting the evolution of alternative fuels, the sector is looking to the future in a positive way.

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