A new institute for developing clean, safe and sustainable air travel has been created by Imperial College London (ICL) as pressure on the aviation industry ramps up to become zero-carbon by 2050.
Its researchers plan to look at all elements of air transport, from fuel and aircraft design to airport infrastructure, air traffic control and aviation policy.
It comes a week after the government announced its ‘Flightpath to the future’ plan which is designed to help the sector recover from the disastrous impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It details how aircraft emissions can be cut, including shorter-term plans to blend 10 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) into the UK fuel mix by 2030.
The research institute has been back by a £25m donation from Brahmal Vasudevan, CEO of private equity firm Creador, and his wife Shanthi Kandiah, founder of legal firm SK Chambers.
Professor Alice Gast, ICL president said: “The Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation will focus Imperial’s world-class research, recently ranked top in the UK, on the grand challenge of low-carbon flight.
“Translating scientific breakthroughs for societal benefit is Imperial’s mission, and this Institute will empower our researchers to collaborate, innovate and pursue new ideas across fields. The benefits of this work will be felt for generations.”
Aviation is currently responsible for more global warming than implied by its carbon footprint of 2.5 per cent of the world’s emissions. This is because air travel does not only emit CO2, but other gasses which affect the atmosphere’s composition and causes additional warming.
According to research from last year, aviation could consume up one-sixth of the remaining temperature budget required to limit warming to 1.5˚C by 2050.
Vasudevan said: “Moving towards zero pollution is a mammoth task and aviation, in particular, is a complicated sector to decarbonise. Tackling the problem in a systematic and coherent way to achieve the goal of a net-zero, sustainable economy requires high levels of eco-innovation to succeed.”
The new research facility will prioritise the development and exploration of new low and zero pollution propulsion technologies and the associated developments in engines, aerodynamics, structures, materials, fuels systems, control and aircraft configuration.
Professor Paul Robinson, head of the Department of Aeronautics at ICL, said: “We know that flying is making a direct contribution to climate change. It also affords us many benefits – it brings people together, supports trade, research, economic growth, medical aid, internationalism, and enables connection between remote and urban areas. Urgent changes need to be made, but we must also ensure that the process is done smoothly, fairly and in a way that maintains the economic and social benefits of flying.”
“Achieving net-zero flight will require a radical shift across the whole system of aviation. There is much to do and not much time, but there is a will and determination being shown across the sector and beyond. Through this Institute, we have the talent, resources and research strength to make this happen.”