Aviation technology key to sustainability

Sustainability is a key consideration in the aviation industry, according to aPictet Asset Management’s webinar entitled ‘The sun is shining on a new dawn in aviation technology’ which took place yesterday, which explored the various technologies supporting sustainability in the within the sector.

Sustainable options including ultralight materials and synthetic fuels, while hydrogen fuel cells emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases. In addition, other options for battery-powered motors and short-haul flights are being studied.

Andre Borschberg, co-founder and executive chairman of the Swiss technology company H55, says: “For aviation we have something like 600,000 airplanes in the air and we can expect that by 2050 there will be perhaps a million of them not counting new solutions like eVTOL from which everyone talks about.

“Either we transform these airplanes and make them clean or we build new ones.”

There are a number of solutions that can increase aircraft efficiency, and hydrogen as a fuel is significant. Liquid hydrogen must be produced at a very low temperature and must be distributed and stored in the same state. Consequently, the use of liquid hydrogen will not be immediate or common.

Matheu Parr, customer director at Rolls-Royce Electrical, says: “We have active research underway to see how we can burn hydrogen in an aerospace jet engine.

“It’s an ongoing trade in the industry. In Advanced Air Mobility we are excited about the use of fuel cells in domestic aircraft.”

There is currently no liquid hydrogen available in Switzerland, but it is expected that it will be used in the future. Studies, research and tests demonstrate its charm.

There is expected to be an increase in gas turbine systems and also the efficiency of gas turbine systems.

Parr says: “When we talk about traveling longer distances, we are talking about a more electric solution rather than an all-electric solution. What we’re looking at is how to improve the efficiency of the gas turbine system through increased electrification.

“When we look at planes flying over the Atlantic, we can improve efficiency by between 2% and 4% by including more electric technology. Over the last 30 years we have improved the gas turbine system by 15%”.

There are many solutions that could replace petroleum such as an electric motor, battery system, fuel cell, or hybrid solution, but battery and hydrogen options don’t have as large energy densities as traditional options.

It is important that the aviation industry continues to encourage technology programs and promote the sustainability agenda so that products can be developed.

There has been an increase in opportunities in this market as current solutions such as combustion engines are now considered inefficient. Regardless of the engine used, the engine will require maintenance, but electric motors will have less due to reduced friction.

H55 and Rolls-Royce Electrical provide solutions that enable aircraft manufacturers to develop cleaner aircraft. There are various projects being worked on that diversify the risk.

The H55 product offering includes a lightweight, modular, and energy storage and management system, while Rolls-Royce Electrical focuses on power and propulsion systems for the urban and regional air mobility markets.

The aviation industry is becoming more comfortable with the change in order to accommodate sustainability, aided by an expectation for more government support in terms of regulation. The frameworks used to certify aircraft are evolving in line with sustainability.

The level of sustainable aviation fuel available is also an area where government support could have an impact.

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