DESIGN AND ENGINEERING
Article | January 7, 2022
A New System That Aims to Create Carbon-Neutral Aviation
Scientists have achieved an amazing breakthrough in the development of carbon-neutral fuel for the aviation industry. An aviation fuel production system that uses water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide has been put into action. Its design was published on July 20th, 2022, in the journal Joule. The dream of achieving carbon-free aviation could become a reality with this development.
“We are the first to demonstrate the entire thermochemical process chain from water and CO2 to kerosene in a fully-integrated solar tower system.” - Aldo Steinfeld, Professor, Study Corresponding Author, ETH Zurich
The aviation industry accounts for approximately 5% of the global anthropogenic emissions that contribute to global climate change. The industry heavily relies on kerosene, commonly known as jet fuel, a liquid hydrocarbon fuel derived from crude oil. There are no clean options to power commercial flights on a global scale at the moment.
Production of Synthetic Kerosene
This breakthrough, with the help of solar energy, makes it possible to produce synthetic kerosene from water and carbon dioxide instead of crude oil. The amount of CO2 emitted during kerosene combustion in a jet engine equals what is consumed during its production in the solar plant. It is what makes the fuel carbon neutral, especially if the CO2 in the air is captured and directly used as an ingredient, which could be possible in the near future.
As part of the European Union's SUN-to-LIQUID project, Steinfeld and his colleagues put forward a system that uses solar power to generate drop-in fuels—synthetic alternatives to fossil-derived fuels like kerosene and diesel. Solar-produced kerosene is consistent with the current aviation infrastructure for allocation, fuel storage, and use in jet engines. It can also combine with fossil-derived kerosene, according to Steinfeld.
High Hopes for the Future
Steinfeld and his team began scaling the construction of a solar fuel manufacturing plant at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Spain half a decade ago. The plant has 169 sun-tracking reflective panels that redirect and concentrate solar radiation into a tower-mounted solar reactor. This concentrated solar energy then powers redox reaction cycles in the reactor’s porous ceria structure, which is not absorbed but can be reused. It transforms the water and carbon dioxide into syngas, a customized mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This syngas is then injected into a gas-to-liquid converter and is finally converted into liquid hydrocarbon fuels such as kerosene and diesel. Steinfeld and his team are working on amping up the reactor’s efficiency from the current 4% to more than 15%.
Article | January 7, 2022
DataBridge recently released a new market research analysis on AI in aviation, and the findings are promising. The aviation industry has relied on artificial intelligence (AI) for years. The technology has assisted pilots through machine learning algorithms to collect flight data about altitudes, air traffic management, weather, and route distance. It has enabled them to optimize fuel usage and reduce fuel costs. And now, it is going further.
AI has been cascading into other areas of aviation. Here are some trends to note from the “Global Artificial Intelligence in Aviation Market” study.
Benefitting Ground Operations
AI is extensively used in real-time support systems and air traffic control. From automated baggage check-in to facial recognition, it is powering several ground operations. These functions contribute heavily to maximizing resources, reducing labor costs, and enhancing seamlessness across different processes.
Improving Performance and Processes with Machine Learning (ML)
The emergence of AI in aviation is thanks to a surge of capital investments by key aviation players. Cloud computing is being used by many organizations as a way to consolidate processes and deal with complexity better.
Impacting How Planes will be Piloted
AI will considerably impact the future of piloting as we know it. Building on Airbus’ first ever takeoff, landing and taxi using vision-based AI in 2020, prominent aerospace tech firms continue to work on self-piloting planes or passenger autonomous aerial vehicles (AV) that will employ AI-powered intelligent navigation to fly.
Improving Efficiency and Accuracy for Manual Processes
According to aviation experts, ML digital assistants are able to process massive volumes of historical data in order to support ground staff and pilots alike. With AI’s capabilities of enabling elusive insights into patterns and complexities of data, the technology is considered ideal for aviation, where there is no room for errors.
The Path Ahead
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of new technologies in pushing the envelope and innovating solutions. The evolution of technology will only propel the adoption of AI further into the aviation industry. With multiple use cases and brilliant results from the use of AI, the aviation industry is all set for a digital transformation fuelled by data, machine learning and precision
Article | July 26, 2022
NASA is known for developing and launching spacecraft that have a significant environmental impact. However, the space agency is fully on board with the net-zero movement. NASA supports the White House's Aviation Climate Action Plan. It is helping fund several aviation projects that aim to reduce the aviation industry’s damage to the environment.
NASA’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator Program
NASA focuses on technologies for single-aisle aircraft, which are the powerhouses of many airline fleets and account for nearly half of global aviation emissions. NASA's Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD) project aims to reduce carbon emissions and keep the US competitive in the design of single-aisle commercial airliners, which are in high demand.
"Since its creation, NASA has worked with industry to develop and implement innovative aeronautics technology and has shared it with the world," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "Now, with this ambitious new project, we're again joining with US industry to usher in a new era of cutting-edge improvements that will make the global aviation industry cleaner, quieter, and more sustainable."
NASA Wants to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Commercial Aircraft
The program’s goal is to build, test, and fly a large-scale demonstrator. NASA hopes to find a business partner for a Funded Space Act Agreement with its Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, by the beginning of 2023.
The agreement would draw on private-industry knowledge and experience, with an awardee developing a suggested technical plan and committing considerable cash to the project. Under this agreement, NASA would not purchase an aircraft or any other hardware for its missions. The mission of NASA is to develop new and innovative technologies and capabilities.
NASA will collect data on the ground and in the air. Agency and industry teams can use it to test the airframe configuration and related technologies.
Moving Away From Space
NASA's technologies are typically cutting-edge. However, as with many high-end items, the benefits and applications frequently filter down to the masses. NASA's specialized technology and research frequently has civil aviation applications. It's interesting to see how NASA seems to be moving away from space and going after planes that fly closer to Earth.
Article | July 6, 2022
Flying is changing, and so is the future of piloting. With technological advancements across the aviation industry, one can only anticipate what’s in store for the future of piloting. The battle between automation and learning skills that automation can easily take over is coming to a head. As airplane engineering matures, the aviation industry isn’t far from seeing a day when pilots who have undergone training on electric trainers require a license endorsement to fly a piston-powered aircraft.
Goodbye, Manual Flying
Airplanes are becoming downright easier to fly. Consider how most pilots today would never be able to fly the aircraft that their seniors trained in. According to experts, piloting skills will put more emphasis on the efficient use of airspace systems instead of directing and maneuvering the aircraft.
Decoding Airplane Information
Traditionally, a pilot’s primary task was to gather and decode the information he received through the aircraft’s systems. This information was then used to give the pilot an “air picture” which allowed him to get a sense of the air traffic, airspace, and weather. As aircraft technology improves, pilots will no longer need to know how to do this. Instead, the "air picture" will be shown on a screen in front of them.
From augmented reality to 3D spatial audio cues, augmentation is happening to aircraft as well as the pilot’s ability to fly them. The evolution of aviation technology will only help transform the mechanics of airplanes, and pilots will no longer need to handle flight control. As augmented reality takes over, future cockpits might not even need to be at the front of the aircraft or have windows. That would be the true test of the future of piloting.