Rising temperatures are having a severe impact on the world we live in - mandating mitigation strategies and adaptation. For aviation and defence, the focus needs to be on the urgency of ‘How’. The aerospace sector has to address climate priorities, harness digitization and marshal advanced automation. Collaboration is critical and must extend across the broader ecosystem, bringing together finance, governments, climate experts, start-ups, OEMs and their supply chains.
There are three critical challenges for the aerospace industry’s net-zero agenda. The first being complexity. Decarbonizing flight is a real system of systems challenge which can’t simply be solved by one sole organisation. Collaboration is the crucial factor in all of this, solving the net-zero equation in aerospace requires understanding human behaviour, government policies and the ways multiple businesses operate and interact. There is also the challenge of diversity: we need different solutions for different parts of the world, operating at different timescales. And finally - different technology solutions needed for long and short haul. The biggest challenge of all, is urgency. The industry must act together and at pace. Reaching net-zero emissions will require an immense effort to invent, refine, and deploy technologies intended to accelerate decarbonization, for the world to hit net zero in 2050. But this may happen at different phases in different ways with different technology solutions coming in different places.
“The aviation sector at the moment produces about 2% of world's CO2 emissions, or when you include the non CO2 effects, this rises to about 5%. But the real problem is that one single flight from London to New York produces about 986 kilogrammes of CO2, which is more than most people in Africa, Asia or South America, produce in an entire year as individuals. The problem in the aviation sector is that it has been stable for about 40 or 50 years. And this means that each group in the aviation sector whether that's the airports, the fuel producers, the airlines or the manufacturers - are homed in their particular silo and nobody gets the whole picture. Luckily, now the whole aviation sector is rapidly changing. In order to accelerate the net-zero transition, we need to understand how the whole system changes so that the individual players know how to act more quickly.” explains Prof. Robert Miller, Director of Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.
The innovation and adoption of climate-friendly technologies in the aerospace industry will not necessarily be straightforward. These processes will undoubtedly prove to be disruptive, due to the interconnected nature of aviation - the industry that keeps the world moving. The interdependence of green aerospace technologies means that scaling them up requires organisations to work together on building new value chains and industrial ecosystems, embracing a far more collaborative approach. It’s particularly important for the development of different energy solutions. The net-zero transformation of the aerospace sector is linked with the transition of the world’s energy system, which, as well as its stock of emissions-intensive equipment and infrastructure, that is now being reengineered to work with renewables.
“The energy sector has a fantastic opportunity here to move the transition forward and accelerate the pace, demonstrate and scale the opportunities that are there. I think the energy sector has already been in front of transitions before: from wood to coal, from coal to gas, from gas to oil, and now into renewables. So they have a track record of being able to pull technologies and large scale projects together, to bring the capabilities and experience of different partners together. They also have that real long-term view to make sure that what we're building is fit for purpose, not just for today.” - says Anna Marie Greenaway, Former Global Director of International University Partnerships at BP.
There’s a plethora of climate technologies, critical to meeting the net-zero challenge out there; and there’s more of them expected to emerge. It’s therefore very important for the industry, consulting companies and academia to work together, providing data and insights to allow the stakeholders across the entire aerospace industry to make informed, long-term decisions. They have to consider the challenges for individual technologies and how these technologies are going to work together to achieve the zero carbon objective but also provide economic safety.
“There is no one silver bullet, there are three ways forward. The first one is sustainable aviation fuels. The benefit of sustainable aviation aviation fuels is that you don't have to change planes or the airport. But in the long term, if we're going to make these fuels with renewable electricity, they're incredibly power hungry, and to make today's aviation fuels as an E-fuel or a synthetic fuel would take about a 40% increase in world electricity, rising to about 80% in 2050. The second way is hydrogen. Hydrogen is really problematic in terms of having to change all your planes and airports. But the energy required for renewable electricity in the longer term is lower, probably 25% to 50%, lower. The third is battery electric that requires the lowest amount of energy overall, but unfortunately, the range is probably limited to about 500 kilometres for 2050.” explains Prof. Robert Miller, Director of Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.
While the aerospace sector has seen tremendous improvement in carbon emission intensity in recent times and is on a pathway to accelerate decarbonisation even further, there needs to be drastic shifts in propulsion systems and aircraft design to allow for a long-term solution to the climate threat. The decisions made now are going to be influencing assets that are in service 40 years from now and will involve trillions of dollars of investment. Rolls-Royce, one of the industry leaders, has always been at the forefront of innovation, pioneering the net-zero change. They are developing, testing and implementing technologies that will define the future of the industry in the years to come.
“When it comes to aviation zero-emission technologies, we must remind ourselves that there is no panacea, there is no silver bullet type of solution. So that's why at Rolls Royce our strategy builds on three pillars. First of all, increasing efficiency. Every single drop of fuel saved every gramme of emissions avoided counts. We're doing that right now, for example, our ultra fan technology demonstrator will be 25% more efficient than our first trend 700 engines. Secondly, we need to continue leveraging sustainable aviation fuels by the end of 2023. We will have demonstrated that all our existing trend engines will be compatible with 100% fat and all of our new products will be net zero by 2030. But let's not be blind to the fact that it will take trillions of dollars of investment to make sash available, affordable and produced sustainably. So we see this as a stepping stone on our path to net 0/3 third pillar, third generation technologies, we are exploring how hydrogen could be used to decarbonize flight. This has the most complex challenges but also the most potential and having broken world records with our spirit of innovation, all electric aircraft.” - says Grazia Vitaddini, Chief Technology and Strategy Office at Rolls-Royce
The aerospace ecosystem has the pioneering spirit and innovation on both earth and in space, to monitor and mitigate many of the worst effects of climate change. There is no doubt about it. With the trifecta of finance, government and the aviation and defence communities - the ecosystem can marshal the big challenges, keeping the world connected, but also safe from a climate disaster. The ecosystem approach really is the way to move forward, and this is why, two of the world’s leading aerospace institutions – ADS and Farnborough International decided to bring the global leaders together at the Aerospace Global Forum 2022. The conference will provide a truly global platform to discuss and catalyse initiatives focused on scalable, realistic, green-growth. Because it’s only together, we can do this.
We are working with The Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge - the home to a unique project that embodies the spirit of cross-sector collaboration - the Aviation Impact Accelerator. Watch our short documentary:
The Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, and Prof. Robert Miller, Director, will be key thought leaders at Aerospace Global Forum on Monday's panel: "Accelerating sustainable aviation
& targeting true zero" 2:00pm - 3.15pm AGF Main Stage, and the unpack session to follow "Unpacking the aviation impact accelerator model 3.30 - 4.30pm AGF Theatre. Register your pass today.