Aviation has been in the news a lot recently. So, I thought I would write something positive about how this industry can become more sustainable and be responsible for less carbon emissions in the future.

Jp Valery

Most of the figures for today’s article come from Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative to map the top 100 climate change solutions.

In their list of solutions, sustainable aviation was ranked as the 43rd most effective solution to reverse global warming.

They highlight that at a minimum, aviation is responsible for 2.5% of global emissions. I have a second article in the pipeline where I will talk about the impact of radiative forcing and how this means that the real figure is likely to be higher than 2.5%.

They point towards some good news, with the industry increasing in efficiency:

From 2000 to 2013, the fuel efficiency of domestic flights in the United States increased by more than 40 percent. Over the same period, fuel efficiency of international flights, which use heavier jets, improved by 17 percent.”

Engines are a key area of focus that can help make aviation more sustainable. They highlight that:

Engines with high rates of air bypass improve fuel efficiency by roughly 15 percent. For the engine maker Pratt & Whitney, adding a gear to its turbofan engine design cut fuel use by an additional 16 percent.”

Some design changes can be quite small, but have powerful effects:

What Boeing calls ‘winglets’ and Airbus calls ‘skarklets’ – upturned birdlike tips that improve a wing’s aerodynamics – trim fuel use by up to 5 percent on both new models and retrofitted older vessels.”

NASA is working together with universities and corporate engineering teams to bring about the next generation of sustainable aircraft. The eye-catching design below is called the N+3. The authors point towards evidence which suggests that dramatic redesigns such as this could lead to efficiency gains of 50-60%.


Interestingly, the authors do not point towards drop in biofuels as a silver bullet, instead they say that:

“The impact biofuels could have on aviation emissions remains uncertain.”

Overall, the research in Drawdown indicated that sustainable aviation could reduce CO2 emissions by 5.05 gigatons, for a net cost of $662.4 billion, but produce net savings of $3.19 trillion. This is a powerful solution capable of reducing a significant amount of carbon emissions.

What you need to know

This article looked into how the aviation industry can become more sustainable.

It was based on the 2017 Drawdown initiative that mapped the top 100 climate change solutions.

There are design solutions both small and large that can increase the efficiency of aeroplanes.

Many of the most advanced solutions are in their infancy. They need to be scaled up rapidly, so that the aviation industry can join in with other industries that are rapidly decarbonising.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to make aviation more sustainable?

 Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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