While aircraft manufacturers are always searching for ways to improve technologies and structures to achieve more efficient and powerful flight, so too are they seeking greener initiatives to curb airplane emissions. As governments and organizations around the world adopt the importance of limiting heat-trapping emissions that source from operating aircraft, countless initiatives have come about for achieving such goals. Ranging from new fuel types that are more efficient to lighter components that reduce the amount of fuel needed to maintain sufficient lift and speed, many projects seek to find ways in which pollutants may be minimized. In this blog, we will discuss some of the technologies that are being developed to curb airplane emissions, allowing you to better understand the forward path of the aviation industry as a whole.
One major way in which pollutants may be reduced is through the creation of new fuels that can be burnt for creating the propulsive force necessary for heavier-than-air flight. Coming in the form of fuels that are produced from biomass, cooking oil, and sugar cane, such substances would be more costly, though would be capable of producing much less pollution. In 2014, NASA conducted a study with biofuel blends, determining that such options can cut soot emissions by at least 50%. Scientists have also discovered ways in which the ketones of sugarcane can be transformed into heavier compounds which may be suitable as aviation fuel, and such researchers claim that the compound can reduce emissions upwards of 80% as compared to conventional jet fuel. While various fuel types have been proposed and tested, much of the difficulty in major implementation comes in the form of investment into refineries that are capable of supplying enough fuel to support the industry.
Alongside fuel alternatives, many aircraft manufacturers have also looked towards new and improved engine designs which are lighter and more fuel efficient. For the 737 Max produced by Boeing, the CFM International LEAP 1-B engine has been implemented which takes advantage of a lightweight carbon fiber fan that enables an increase of fuel efficiency upwards of 15%. Airbus has also followed suit, designing their A320neo jet with the choice of either a CFM engine or Pratt & Whitney engine with an extra gear. Based on the construction of such engines, Airbus claims a 20% reduction of fuel per passenger seat.
The shape of the aircraft fuselage or its tail may also pose a major benefit to pollutant reductions. One example is the wider, double fuselage that would incorporate engines within the fuselage while wings would be much lighter. Another proposal is to create a smaller vertical tail, taking advantage of sweeping jet actuators to ensure that the takeoff and landing side force is equivalent to that provided by a larger tail.
While many may not consider bugs to be a detriment to fuel efficiency, the accumulation of sticky substances over time can actually begin to affect aerodynamics and increase drag. As such, researchers are seeking ways to implement non-stick coatings for wings that would prevent the buildup of bug residue by almost half. Although perhaps not as big of a leap as other proposals, the reduction of drag will result in increased fuel efficiency and thus a reduction in emissions.
As a last major effort to reduce pollutants, some plane parts may be constructed with the use of 3D printing. While such methods are currently unable to facilitate the production of major components such as a wing or engine, smaller parts such as brackets, buckles, hinges, etc. all may be created with reduced weight. Altogether, 3D printing poses a weight reduction ranging from 4% to 7%, meaning that fuel consumption may be reduced by around 6.4%. For this method to truly be realized, innovations must come to 3D printing technologies.
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