The aviation and shipping industries contribute significantly to global CO2 emissions each year, but a growing portfolio of sustainable technological solutions are helping the sectors reduce impacts and remain competitive.
NASA has given its stamp approval to the use of biofuels in the aviation industry in a recent report, in which the body claims that using biofuels to help power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70 percent.
The findings are the result of a cooperative international research program led by NASA and agencies from Germany and Canada, and are detailed in a study published in the journal Nature.
Data was collected during flight tests in 2013 and 2014 near NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. on the effects of alternative fuels on engine performance, emissions and aircraft-generated contrails at altitudes flown by commercial airlines. The test series were part of the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions Study (ACCESS).
Contrails are produced by hot aircraft engine exhaust mixing with the cold air that is typical at cruise altitudes several miles above Earth’s surface and are composed primarily of water in the form of ice crystals.
Researchers are most interested in persistent contrails because they create long-lasting and sometimes extensive clouds that would not normally form in the atmosphere and are believed to be a factor in influencing Earth’s environment.
“Soot emissions also are a major driver of contrail properties and their formation,” said Bruce Anderson, ACCESS project scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. “As a result, the observed particle reductions we’ve measured during ACCESS should directly translate into reduced ice crystal concentrations in contrails, which in turn should help minimize their impact on Earth’s environment.”
This point is a crucial one — contrails, and the cirrus clouds that evolve from them, have a larger impact on Earth’s atmosphere than all the aviation-related carbon dioxide emissions since the first powered flight by the Wring brothers.
The tests involved flying NASA’s DC-8 as high as 40,000 feet while its four engines burned a 50-50 blend of aviation fuel and a renewable alternative fuel of hydro processed esters and fatty acids produced from camelina plant oil. A trio of research aircraft took turns flying behind the DC-8 at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 20 miles to take measurements on emissions and study contrail formation as the different fuels were burned.
“This was the first time we have quantified the amount of soot particles emitted by jet engines while burning a 50-50 blend of biofuel in flight,” said Richard Moore, lead author of the report.
The trailing aircraft included NASA’s HU-25C Guardian jet based at Langley, a Flacon 20-E5 jet owned by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and a CT-133 jet provided by the National Research Council of Canada.
“Measurements in the wake of aircraft require highly experienced crew members and proven measuring equipment, which DLR has built up over many years,” said report co-author Hans Schlager of the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics. “Since 2000, the DLR Falcon has been used in numerous measurement campaigns to investigate the emissions and contrails of commercial airliners.”
The report and its findings are just the beginning — NASA intends to continue these studies to further understand and demonstrate the potential of replacing current fuels with biofuels in the aviation industry.
Biofuels have been a topic in aviation for the last several years. Many major airlines have begun using blended fuels and Boeing has been working with USDA and FAA towards producing one billion gallons of aviation biofuel by 2018. The industry has also begun exploring the use of end-of-life ocean plastic to fuel planes.
Meanwhile, AkzoNobel is celebrating 21 years of its Intersleek range of biocide-free marine coatings, which have helped ship owners and operators achieve fuel savings worth a combined total of $3 billion since its introduction.
The Intersleek coating has also contributed to savings of 10 million tons of fuel and 32 million tons of CO2. The savings achieved over the last two decades are equivalent to the amount of CO2 emitted when 15.5 billion kilograms of coal is burned or during a 123 billion kilometer car journey (a distance similar to 400 return trips from Earth to the Sun) — no small feat.
The milestones are based on the savings achieved using Intersleek in comparison to each vessel’s previous hull coating system. The product range was the first silicone-based technology developed for fast crafts and deep-sea scheduled vessels.
“Intersleek has come a long way since we first discovered the foul release effect of silicone elastomers in the laboratory as part of our R&D process to create more sustainable technologies,” said Oscar Wezenbeek, managing director of AkzoNobel’s Marine Coatings business.
“Since then, it has a significant impact on the shipping industry and made a tangible difference for many ship owners, as well as playing a leading role in our ongoing commitment to making shipping more sustainable.”
Intersleek is at the heart of AkzoNobel’s industry-first carbon credits scheme, which financially rewards operators for generating less CO2 emissions. Ship owners are awarded one carbon credit for each ton of CO2 saved. This effectively rewards owners twice for choosing sustainable coatings — both through a reduction in fuel costs and the financial benefits of the credits awarded. The carbon credits initiative incentivizes investment in more sustainable practices, thereby accelerating carbon reduction within the shipping industry and enabling owners to gain from operational, environmental and bottom line benefits from technologies.
To mark the 21st anniversary of Intersleek, AkzoNobel is launching a special campaign, which is designed to reflect the technology’s impact on the global shipping industry, as well as the importance of increasing sustainability within the sector.