Flightpath 2050: Embracing the New Era of Green Aviation

In our previous discussions, we delved into the aviation industry’s evolving stance on climate change, particularly spotlighting the commendable measures undertaken by Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Meanwhile, as the conversation around sustainable air travel increases, the sector gears toward more eco-conscious decisions. Furthermore, as environmental concerns intensify, the aviation sector is pivotal. Given this, and with the urgency to decarbonize becoming palpable, airlines and stakeholders are increasingly focusing on innovative technologies and fuels. They aim to slash carbon emissions in the coming decades substantially. Lastly, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) states that critical policies from 2023 to 2050 will be paramount in steering this green transformation.

1. Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)

Traditional jet fuel has long powered our global fleet, but its carbon emissions have been a growing concern. Enter SAF, a game-changing biofuel with the potential to minimize our carbon footprint significantly. How? SAF’s life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are considerably lower than that of conventional jet fuel, and some production techniques even boast a net-negative GHG impact.

Neste, a global leader from Finland, exemplifies this trend with its pioneering solution, the Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel™. It offers a staggering reduction in GHG emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil jet fuel. And with giants like Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, and Delta onboard, it’s clear that SAF is one of the keys to reshaping the future of flying.

2. Direct Air Carbon Capture & Storage (DACCS)

Beyond fuels, emerging technologies like DACCS offer hope. DAC technologies can extract CO2 directly from the air, making them versatile tools in our carbon-neutral mission. With aviation heavyweights like Airbus, AirFrance-KLM, and Lufthansa showing keen interest, the feasibility of integrating DACCS on a global scale looks promising.

In 2022, Airbus and seven airline companies signalled their intention to explore the purchase of carbon capture credits to counterbalance flight emissions. The involved airlines are Air Canada, AirFrance-KLM, easyJet, International Airlines Group (IAG), LATAM Airlines, Lufthansa Group, and Virgin Atlantic. These entities aim to deliberate on potentially securing verified carbon removal credits by the start of 2025.

3. The Hydrogen Frontier

Hydrogen’s potential to revolutionize aviation is clear. As an energy source, when sourced renewably, it could obliterate CO2 emissions during flight.

The benefits of hydrogen as an onboard energy source are evident: when derived from renewable sources, it can entirely negate CO2 emissions during flight and throughout its energy life cycle. Utilizing hydrogen in fuel cells results in zero-emission propulsion, eliminating NOx and particle emissions. If burned in a turbine engine, it yields minimal particle emissions and fewer NOx emissions, given the combustion system is fine-tuned. However, burning hydrogen produces more water vapour. Given these variances in emissions at flight altitudes compared to standard ‘drop-in’ fuels, a thorough evaluation is essential to understand hydrogen’s total climatic implications when used in combustion engines.

Airbus stands at the forefront, diving deep into research on hydrogen propulsion systems, emphasizing hydrogen combustion and fuel cells. However, as with any groundbreaking technology, challenges exist, from storage concerns to integration into commercial flights.

4. The Rise of Electric Aircraft

The dream of an electric sky is inching closer to reality. Electric aircraft, powered by rechargeable batteries and motors, promise zero carbon emissions.

An electric plane operates entirely on electricity, foregoing jet fuel for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and electric motors emitting no carbon. Typically, these aircraft can cover distances up to 1,000 miles on a single charge. Power alternatives for these planes encompass solar, grid, wireless power transmission, or even a blended approach combining electric with combustion engines.

As technological advancements continue, soon, we may witness planes soaring through the skies, powered purely by electricity.

While we take another look at Alice, the all-electric plane that completed its inaugural test flight, marking a significant step for carbon-free aviation.

The horizon of 2050 may seem distant, but the task at hand is monumental. A net-zero CO2 emission future for aviation demands unwavering commitment and collaboration. While innovation in aircraft technology and SAF holds immense promise, the onus is equally on timely and effective policies. We can only envisage green skies ahead with the combined efforts of the industry, regulators, and policymakers.