Reducing Aircraft Carbon Emissions
Does it matter?
Recently, Tony Douglas, Etihad Airway’s CEO, was quoted as saying:
“The sustainability challenge to commercial aviation is going to be around for decades, if not generations. It’s a function of the physics of flight and the reality that there is a continued demand for people to want to be able to do so.”
Today’s high-bypass fan jets are among the most efficient fossil fuel engines in existence. It’s to the point that a major improvement takes billions of dollars in development, a decade of time, and results in a few percentage savings in fuel burn.
Electric motors and their battery storage systems currently don’t have anywhere near the power efficiency and energy density. This will likely remain true for decades.
While land-based transportation can take advantage of recharging stations or continuous power flow (trains), that’s not an option for aircraft.
Similar to the precursor to the all-electric car, gas turbines could be used in a future aircraft for the power-intensive portion of flight (takeoff, climb out, and landing) while a future electric motor system could be used for cruise.
But as Douglas stated, “…generators…” is the time span.
Does it matter?
While airline travel is predicted to substantially increase, particularly in Asia and India, even with the most optimistic projections, aircraft emissions aren’t anywhere close to being a major contributor to environmental pollution.
Instead, let’s spend our resources on the low-hanging fruit: commercial and residential energy consumption. When you do the math, HVAC (Heating and Cooling systems) consumes a large percentage of an average building’s total energy.
Efforts at substantial energy efficiency upgrades to these systems are ongoing, particularly in the heat-pump sector. Combine heat-pump technology with a solar/battery source of power and we’ll make a substantial improvement in environmental pollution.