Five minutes with… Naresh Kumar

Ahead of UN World Environment Day 2021 on 5th June, FlyZero’s Head of Sustainability Naresh Kumar shares why we need to act now to address the carbon challenge.

NH: What attracted you to join the FlyZero project?
NK: The opportunity to help create an industry built on zero-carbon emission technology and to work alongside a group of elite experts here in the UK. Having worked with them for about five months now, it just goes to confirm that when we get real experts together we can do a lot and achieve a lot, and that’s the amount of energy that I feel in the team so far.
NH: How do you define sustainability?
NK: Some refer to sustainability as saving the planet. Some people talk about sustainable growth. I personally think the Oxford Dictionary definition sums it up nicely which is sustainability as meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations. So I will make sure that my children (and their children ahead of them) won’t feel that we, as a generation, created all the problems that they can’t then solve.
When I look at FlyZero, if we address sustainability in the right way, I genuinely believe that our global society can continue to prosper by benefiting from air travel and at the same time safeguard our planet by eliminating harmful emissions as quickly as possible.
NH: So why is it important that we act now to tackle the carbon challenge?
NK: I’ve been close to this topic for at least a couple of decades. The urgency has been around us for some time, and as the understanding of climate science improves there’s no doubt that the effects of climate change can be halted if we eliminate CO2 emissions. The quickest way is to support technology innovation through investment in research and skills; I think that’s fundamental.
We’re not short of ideas, but support is critical to convert these concepts into reality. The sooner we act together the sooner we can benefit from new technologies and reduce our climate impact with the aim of stopping and reversing the trends we are seeing.
NH: What about non-CO2, what else is important for FlyZero to succeed?
NK: There are other things we have to take care of beyond carbon dioxide emissions. There’s NOx emissions and types of nitrogen which have complex chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Also, water emissions – although it’s one of the safest and most abundant compounds on Earth, at altitude water can cause the formation of condensation trails which can sometimes be persistent and could lead to serious cloud formation which has a warming effect. And finally noise, which is a significant issue particularly near large airports, so FlyZero is addressing all of these aspects as part of its work.
NH: How will the sustainability team be supporting the delivery of FlyZero?
NK: Our workstreams build on an understanding of the full life cycle analysis and this is really intertwined across the entire FlyZero team. We’ve set sustainability targets as part of the project requirements to ensure that FlyZero concepts will meet the international standards that will apply in 2030. This is in addition to achieving zero-carbon emissions aircraft.
We are already starting to build design for sustainability principles into the workings of the project as we explore the technology bricks needed for the various concepts that we are investigating.
We’re not leaving any stone unturned – we want to take advantage of novel materials which are lightweight, but we also want to make sure that these materials aren’t high-impact materials, so the embedded energy that is used to create these materials for the industry going forward is something that we want to manage.
We also want to make sure that we build the need for recycling and end of life considerations into these requirements. The industry is pretty good at the moment: about 85 to 90% of an aircraft by weight can be reused or recycled currently, but we of course want to improve that even further if we can.
NH: Finally, where will you fly to on your first zero-carbon emission flight?
NK: I have family in India so I’d love to go to there on a zero-carbon emission aircraft. I’d even be happy to stop halfway if the aircraft range is limited, but that’s definitely the first place I’d like to go to.