The drive towards improved sustainability in the aviation/aerospace industry continues to inch forward. Sustainability has returned rapidly to the agenda for an aviation industry still struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The commercial aerospace industry, common to its rich technology history, will be the leading edge in emerging technologies that will continue to shift its trajectory.
CO2 emissions from aviation have risen rapidly over the past two decades, reaching nearly 1 Gt in 2019, or about 2.8% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Since 2000, commercial passenger flight activity has grown by about 2.5-fold (5% per year), while CO2 emissions rose by 50% (2% per year), thanks to operational and technical efficiency measures adopted by commercial airlines, including new aircraft purchases. The energy intensity of commercial passenger aviation has decreased 2.8% per year on average, but improvements have slackened over time. They must be maintained to limit fuel demand to volumes at which sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) – low-carbon alternatives to fossil-based jet kerosene – can supply growing shares of the fuel needed to power commercial aircraft. And hydrogen has suddenly and unexpectedly risen to the top.
Airbus is leading the charge, with plans to deliver a zero-emissions commercial aircraft by 2035 backed by massive investment in hydrogen research from the French and German governments. The European manufacturer on Sept. 21 unveiled three different concepts for liquid-hydrogen-fueled airliners, they include 1) fuel cells offering a near-term path to hydrogen, 2) Long-range flying favors direct combustion and 3) where short haul flights could use a hybrid approach.
I listened in on the recent ATI Boeing Accelerator 2021Demo Day where a number of start-ups gave proposals aimed at bringing forward their technological solutions in the field of aviation. One such start-up that impressed me was HiiROC, promoting a step-change technology for low-cost, zero-emission Hydrogen production. HiiROC produces hydrogen through a unique plasma process. The HiiROC solution is the innovation required to enable the move to a ‘Hydrogen Economy’. Their solution is flexible (smallest unit is the size of two refrigerators), mobile and installed onsite where the hydrogen is needed. Solution is scalable as multiple units can be combined.
In addition to SAF’s as a sustainability pathway, other technologies providing improved efficiencies are high-tech batteries, additive manufacturing and composites. Aluminum is still widely used in aerospace applications, but advanced carbon-fiber composites and superalloys now captivate the attention of engineers needing to increase efficiency, optimize performance and reduce weight.
Technology continues to be a critical driver towards re-inventing the aerospace segment towards a more sustainable future. At Match Point Strategies, we believe in working with change agents through providing insights, content, and business development. Reach out to us – conversations are free!