Innovation & Technology

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Aviation biggies go ‘green’

HYDERABAD: ‘Go green’ is the new mantra of the aviation industry. And this was evident at the ongoing India Aviation 2012 that saw majority of the participants riding high on their ‘environment friendly’ products. From leading aviation manufacturers such as Airbus andBoeing (Dreamliner) to major engine developers such as Pratt & Whitney, Power Jet and GE, all used the ‘eco-efficient’ tag prominently to market their offerings.

If Power Jet showcased its ‘SAM146′ jet engine as a state-of-the-art `green’ technology-driven product, Pratt & Whitney stressed on how its new engine wash facility (called EcoPower engine wash) was free of toxic chemicals and detergents. Boeing’s Dreamliner was presented as a `cleaner, quieter and more efficient’ aircraft that not only reduced carbon emissions by a good 20 per cent but also guaranteed 40 per cent less noise footprint. Even GE made deliberate attempts to highlight its new fuel and carbon solutions, which they claimed can help a typical mid-sized airline save an average of three to six per cent on their aircraft related carbon dioxide emissions. Airbus, apart from talking about their 70 per cent market share in India, also spared a few minutes to speak about its efforts in creating alternative fuels that have now been authorized for use on commercial passenger flights.

“Environmental issues that were once part of a company’s corporate social responsibility have now become the focal point. Like most other sectors, the aviation industry too is concerned about the environment now,” said Palash Roy Chowdhury, managing director-India (commercial engineers and global services) of Pratt & Whitney.



Lufthansa, Southwest named green aviation leaders

Lufthansa and Southwest Airlines have been named among the greenest names in aviation.

The airlines both picked up gongs from Air Transport World‘s magazine’s first eco-aviation awards, designed to honor companies which are trying to reduce the environmental impact of the flights that we take.

German airline Lufthansa took a gold award for its program to reduce fuel and emissions by modernizing its fleet and the burnFAIR project, which saw it launch biofuel flights in routine service from 2011.

Southwest Airlines, the American low-cost carrier, was a surprise winner of an eco-pioneer award thanks to its focus on efficiency.

According to ATW, that focus on efficiency to trim costs allowed it to be “an eco-pioneer long before the industry recognized environmentally sound business practices.”

The eco-airport award went to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas, thanks to its adoption of technology to reduce emissions — last year, it used some 87 million kilowatt-hours of electricity created from renewable wind energy.

Airlines are increasingly paying attention to their carbon footprint, not least because it’s becoming an issue for passengers too.

Last month, a survey conducted in the US by travel review giant TripAdvisor suggested that 71 percent of travelers plan to make ‘eco-friendly’ choices when it comes to travel, with half admitting that they would shell out more money for a greener experience.

How technology can help aviation go green

LONDON, England – The airline industry is seen by many as one of the main culprits when it comes to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions — and therefore climate change.

It has been heavily criticized by environmentalists for perceived inaction over its high CO2 output — estimated at between two and 10 percent, depending on whose figures you want to trust.

However, with oil prices doubling worldwide in the last year the incentive for the aviation industry to reduce its fuel output is now as much driven by hard economic realities as environmental factors.

Although there have been efforts to mitigate the impact of air travel through initiatives like carbon offsetting, many see this as a short-term solution and as such of limited value.

The search is on to find ways of reducing planes reliance on fossil fuels and according to the CEO of Lufthansa, Wolfgang Mayrhuber there is only one area that will provide the answer in the long run: “technology, technology and again technology.” 

The biofuel option

Virgin Atlantic owner Richard Branson throws a coconut in the air. Biofuel made partly from coconut was used to power a 747 in February.

Within the airline industry itself many are putting their faith in biofuel as a viable alternative to petroleum fuels. So-called first generation biofuel is made from organic materials — often food crops — that are broken down to produce oil or alcohol fuel like ethanol.

Its chief champion so far is the owner of Virgin Atlantic, the tycoon Richard Branson, who has pledged to invest profits from his transport empire in to biofuel production.

The use of biofuel remains contentious, however, with claims that harvesting of the crops needed to make the fuel robs locals in the developing world of valuable farmland thereby pushing up food prices. Environmentalists also argue that it often leads to deforestation, making any CO2 savings largely redundant.

Mindful of these criticisms, Branson used a mix of coconut oil harvested from existing plantations and oil from palms that grow wild to fuel a flight from London to Amsterdam earlier this year. The Virgin Atlantic 747 that left Heathrow in February was the first commercial aircraft to be powered partly by biofuel.

Even so the plane still relied on 80 percent conventional jet fuel, and many are skeptical whether first generation biofuel has enough energy density to work on its own. The harmful impact on food prices and the sheer volume of crops needed in their production has led many airlines to set their sights on second and even third generation biofuels that come from non-food crops.

Air New Zealand, for example, has begun testing Jatropha, a bush native to Central America that can grow in very arid environments, requires little water and has a much higher yield than crops like corn.

Rob Fyfe, CEO of the New Zealand national carrier said they decided on the crop “because we wanted a fuel that had no connotations in terms of competing with the crops from indigenous forests.” Air New Zealand has committed to running its fleet on 10 percent non-food biofuels by 2013.

Going green with algae

Scientists are researching using algae as an aviation fuel. It is believed it could produce higher yields than other biofuels.

Other airlines are looking away from the land for the solution. Boeing has joined energy giants such as Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell in supporting research in to the use of algae.

Researchers have already managed to extract vegetable oil from algae harvested on ponds. It is still only at its early stages but scientists believe algae could potentially produce much higher yields than other biofuel with the added advantage that it would not take up valuable farmland.

Two members of staff from Boeing sit on the board of directors of the Algal Biomass Organization, a U.S. trade body set up to accelerate research and funding into its use as an aviation fuel.

Inspired by birds

Creating efficiencies is not just about improving fuel, of course. Airlines are also looking at aircraft design and the way the skies are managed in the hunt for savings.

Mayrhuber told CNN he would like to see the rules governing the flight paths planes are allowed to travel along relaxed to allow aircraft to choose the most energy efficient routes.

“From Europe we have three entry points into China,” he says. “If you asked the birds that migrate, they take a different route every day. Why? It isn’t so they don’t pay the fuel at the station. It is energy. They take the best route every day and we believe that there are airways that are outdated.”

According to Mayrhuber, if planes were allowed to travel unrestricted across Europe it would reduce carbon emissions from aviation on the continent by 12 percent overnight.

It is not only the migratory routes of birds that aviation experts are looking at. They are hoping that examining the design of nature’s ultimate flying machines might turn up some unexpected solutions. USA Today, for instance reported that scientists are investigating how it is that birds can fly without the large vertical tail fin required on planes. If they could solve this conundrum, getting rid of the fin would very likely lead to fuel savings.

Many of these technological changes are unlikely to happen in the near future (if they happen at all) while environmentalists insist climate change is of pressing concern right now. The jury is still out on just how seriously the aviation industry is taking the threat of global warming, but with oil prices still on the up it may be forced to act sooner rather than later.

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