SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists believe that organically produced bio-fuels could be one of the answers to the environmental challenge posed by greenhouse gases emitted around the globe by the commercial aviation industry.
A panel of researchers presented their findings Monday during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine — formerly the National Research Council — released its formal report with recommendations on lowering carbon pollution in commercial aviation over the next several decades. The panel called for greater reliance on biofuel across the commercial aviation industry, which last year contributed 750 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions globally, about 2 percent of the overall carbon load worldwide, researchers explained.
“Roughly 90 percent of (global aircraft carbon dioxide) emissions (come) from large aircraft,” said Karen Thole, professor and head of the Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Department at Pennsylvania State University. “That’s any aircraft that holds 100 or more passengers.”
She said that today there are about 20,000 aircraft that travel throughout the world flying 3 trillion passenger miles per year and use 70 billion gallons of jet fuel.
“Whatever we recommend has to have the capacity to be scaled up to meet those big systematic challenges,” she said.
Researchers found four different approaches that had potential, including aircraft propulsion integration, gas turbine engine research, turbo-electric (hybrid) propulsion and sustainable alternative jet fuel. The fuel alternative held the most promise for mass development, she noted.
The research was conducted with the idea that development and implementation of the recommendations could occur within 30 years on the scale necessary to operate the world’s commercial aircraft fleet, Thole said.
Last year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration commissioned the National Research Council to convene a committee to develop a national research agenda with the objective of reducing life-cycle carbon emissions from commercial aviation. The measure of life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions attempts to calculate the global-warming potential of electrical energy sources by doing an assessment of each energy source and presenting the findings in units of global warming potential.
The recommended research agenda consisted of a prioritized set of research projects of importance to the national and international commercial aeronautics community, with focus on advances in technologies and capabilities that can only be achieved through substantial research and technology development, said Alan Angleman, study director with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Specifically, the committee targeted new or more highly efficient propulsion — such as hybrid-electric — and energy systems like biofuels, batteries and fuel cells, he said.
These are fuels that could be injected into the same types of engine systems as the current jet fuels, Angleman said. If successfully developed, the new fuels could reduce carbon emissions on the order of approximately 50 percent to 60 percent, he said.
“These fuels are ‘bio-generated’ as opposed to petroleum generated fuels that could be immediately in the current infrastructure of airports as well as work very well in the current gas turbine engines in the current (global) aircraft fleet,” Thole said.
She noted that developing the fuels could cost millions over the years, but could one day compete favorably with relatively inexpensive petroleum-based jet fuel produced today.
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