Our thanks to Dr Simon Weeks, Chief Technology Officer of the Institute, for this blog.
The ATI was delighted to see the recent joint commitment of seven CTOs from the world’s largest commercial aviation manufacturers to work to reduce the net CO2 emissions from aviation. They are on the way to meet the near-term targets set out by the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for Aviation (CORSIA). Having played a leading role in the definition of the broader EU Flightpath 2050 environmental impact goals in 2011, I was also really pleased to see their renewed commitment to those too. At the Paris Air Show, where the announcement was made, I had the opportunity to meet with some of these industry leaders and hear their intent directly.
One of the major themes of the ATI’s UK aerospace technology strategy and associated technology programmes, including the Future Flight Challenge, is improved environmental performance; around half of the ATI Programme investment is directly concerned with this. In the UK, our leading technological capabilities in wings, propulsion and systems will make a large contribution to improving environmental performance in the coming years. With the UK government’s commitment for zero net carbon by 2050, the ATI is working with industry and academia to develop a route map for aviation’s contribution.
For wings, we see opportunities to improve the overall fuel efficiency and hence CO2 emissions of aircraft by reducing aerodynamic drag and ‘lightweighting’ using advanced composites. Lightweight composite structures technologies will enable airframers to produce longer, thinner wings for better aerodynamic efficiency. Research on ways to actively enhance laminar low drag flow across wings is already well advanced. Ultimately, we would like to enable structures to reshape themselves, morphing through a flight to further optimise aerodynamics.
On jet engines, ultra-high bypass engine technologies will improve propulsive, aerodynamic and thermodynamic efficiencies, reducing fuel consumption. In the future, electrification of propulsion offers the prospect of simultaneous production of thrust alongside enhancing airframe aerodynamics.
Work on aircraft systems technologies is aimed at making them ever more energy efficient and lighter. Software defined systems will reduce the number and weight of avionics units in an aircraft. Systems will progressively become all-electric, improving the aircraft energy efficiency.
Electrified propulsion, hybrid for longer ranges and all-electric for shorter ranges is heralding in the so-called ‘third age’ of aviation, with the prospect of new markets for urban and sub-regional aviation. With the right integration of technologies at the air vehicle level, there is the real prospect of zero net carbon flight from the outset for these exciting developments.
Achieving zero net carbon flight will need technologies on aircraft and across other areas that impact the carbon emissions from the aviation industry. New sustainable manufacturing technologies will reduce factory carbon emissions and require dramatically less raw materials. We will need to make the flight patterns of aircraft shorter and more energy-efficient through the development and application of new ways of managing air traffic. Technologies for low-carbon impact drop-in fuels – both bio-derived and synthetic – need to be accelerated. Electrified aviation will need zero net carbon electricity from land-based power generation. The UK is world leading in these areas and hence has every opportunity to make progress on both national and international stages.
Going forward, the ATI will be regularly highlighting the progress being made on aviation’s journey to lower environmental impact. If you have any ideas of areas where we could be doing more to help, please let me know!
Photo: © Airbus