Aviation technology key to sustainability

Jasleen Mann investigates which technologies and solutions are expected to transform the aviation industry.

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Sustainability is a key consideration within the aviation industry according to a Pictet Asset Management’s webinar titled ‘The sun shines on a new dawn in aviation technology', which explored the various technologies supporting sustainability within the industry.

Sustainable options including ultra-light materials and synthetic fuels while hydrogen fuel cells emit significantly lower greenhouse gases. In addition, other options for engines and battery-powered short haul flights are being considered.

“For aviation we have something like 600,000 aeroplanes flying and we can expect that by 2050 maybe there will be one million not even counting new solutions like eVTOL that everybody talks about," says Andre Borschberg, co-founder and executive chairman of Swiss technology company H55.

"Either we transform these aeroplanes and make them clean or we build new ones."

Hydrogen power: an important development

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

Matheu Parr, customer director for Rolls-Royce Electrical, says: “We have active ongoing research to look at 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 no liquid hydrogen available in Switzerland at the moment but it is expected to be used in the future. Studies, research and tests demonstrate the appeal of this.

When we look at the aircraft that travel over the Atlantic we can improve the efficiency by somewhere between 2% to 4% by including more electric technology.

It is expected that there will be an increase in gas turbine systems and also the efficiency of gas turbine systems.

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

“When we look at the aircraft that travel over the Atlantic we can improve the efficiency by somewhere between 2% to 4% by including more electric technology. Over the past 30 years we have improved the gas turbine system by 15%.”

Encouriging new technologies

There are many solutions which could replace oil such as an electric motor, battery system, a fuel cell or a hybrid solution; but battery and hydrogen options do not have energy densities as large as traditional options.

It is important for the aviation industry to continue to encourage technology programmes and push the sustainability agenda in order for the products to be developed.

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

H55 and Rolls-Royce Electrical provide solutions which allow aircraft manufacturers to develop cleaner aircraft. There are various projects which are being worked on which diversifies risk.

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

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

The level of sustainable aviation fuel available is also an aspect which government support could impact.