Superjumbo jet engine flies on 100% sustainable aviation fuel

Airbus just flew the world’s largest passenger plane with 100% sustainable aviation fuel powering one of its four engines – and the pilot made no difference. Future tests will convert more engines to 100% sustainable fuel.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel: Commercial aviation accounts for around 3% of global carbon emissions, and the UN projects emissions from the industry will more than triple by 2050, due to increased demand.

Some airlines are exploring the use of sustainable aviation fuel, which is made from renewable resources, such as algae, corn grit or used cooking oil, instead of petroleum.

Carbon emissions from commercial aviation are expected to more than triple by 2050.

Compared to traditional jet fuel, this alternative fuel can produce 80% fewer emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

It can also be mixed with standard jet fuel and used in existing aircraft. This makes it more logistically feasible than hydrogen or battery-powered aircraft, which require fundamentally different designs, engines or fuel storage.

The challenge: All Airbus planes are already certified to fly on a blend of 50% sustainable aviation fuel and 50% kerosene, but the company’s goal is to be able to fly on 100% sustainable fuel by 2030.

Sustainable aviation fuel is made from renewable resources, such as algae, corn grit or used cooking oil.

To achieve that goal, it needs to prove that its planes will be able to fly as well using only environmentally friendly fuel – and some in the industry fear that won’t be the case.

As Joshua Heyne, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Dayton, told Popular Science, 100% sustainable aviation fuel could interact badly with engine materials, causing leaks, or that could cause problems with the gauges used to measure fuel levels. .

What’s new? On March 25, Airbus flew one of its A380 superjumbo jets for three hours with 100% sustainable aviation fuel powering one of its four engines. On March 29, he tested the alternative fuel during takeoff and landing.

“We didn’t notice any difference from the pilot’s perspective,” said Wolfgang Absmeier, the plane’s test pilot. “The engineers in the back, they were looking at, of course, 1,000 parameters, and on the face of it there was no difference.”

French energy company TotalEnergies provided the fuel, which was made mostly from used cooking oil and other waste fats. Airbus flew two other planes using 100% sustainable aviation fuel, but none were as big as the A380, which is the world’s largest airliner.

The big picture: Transitioning to more sustainable aviation fuel might be the easiest fruit of green aviation, but it’s far from the only option explored.

Other groups are designing more energy-efficient fossil fuel-powered aircraft, as well as hydrogen- and electricity-powered aircraft. The industry is also looking for ways to make flights more environmentally friendly by changing flight routes and altitudes.

“We didn’t notice any difference from the pilot’s point of view.”

Wolfgang Absmeier

If the aviation industry is able to go green in the long term, it will likely be through a combination of all of these approaches.

“I don’t think there will be giant leaps [to sustainability]Etihad Aviation Group CEO Tony Douglas told the audience at the FIA ​​Connect 2020 conference. “It will be about how we use every opportunity to improve.”

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