What will it take to make aviation more environmentally sustainable? Just about anything and everything seemed to be the answer from a May 19 EBACE Connect session on the issue.
The EBACE audience heard how Airbus has scientists with its BlueSky team tapping microbiology for techniques such as using microbes and enzymes to “brew” new aircraft fuels using waste that can’t otherwise be cleanly disposed of. According to senior research project leader Patricia Parleviet, the European aerospace group is leaving no stone unturned in the quest for sustainability, with teams also working in fields such as quantum computing and sensing, as well as biomimicry (looking for inspiration from birds and insects). The one propulsion she did rule out was nuclear energy due to the harmful waste it generates.
The Munich, Germany-based Airbus scientist’s message was closely echoed by other speakers, who called on business aviation to channel circular economic principles to seek progress that aims to support sustainability at every stage. With this in mind, Anita Sengupta, a former NASA engineer who has launched a hydrogen fuel cell developer called Hydroplane, argued that electric batteries for aircraft are not “an evolutionary path” because of how they are produced and disposed of at the end of their useful life.
California-based Hydroplane is working on a new hydrogen fuel cell system to power aircraft operated on shorter regional routes. According to Sengupta, her team could be ready for an initial flight test on an unspecified aircraft within 18 months, and could potentially be available to start operating “in a European island nation” by around 2023 or 2024.
Sebastiano Fumero, an advisor with the European Commission (EC), said that organization has launched a consultation with alternative fuel producers to encourage new ways to increase production rates for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). “With what we hope will be a fast recovery [from Covid] for the industry, it will be hard to make enough for aviation,” he said.
According to Fumero, the EC’s new public-private joint undertaking is appealing for new ideas and partners not only from within aviation but also from the energy sector and other industries. He said that European regulators also are considering plans to require a minimum percentage of SAF to be blended with jet-A.