The Anonymous Widower

Will Biofuel Save Jet Aviation?

I ask this question as I have just written a post, which is entitled Grant Shapps Announcement On Friday, where I detail a project called Altalto, which its developers hope will convert waste into aviation biofuel.

But there are other factors at work, that will have effects on passenger flying.

Electric Aircraft

Despite the technological problems electric aircraft, I can see that in a couple of years, an electric plane will be available with the following specification.

  • 9-15 passenger capacity
  • 100-200 mile range
  • Half-hour recharge time

These will improve as technology improves. But then everybody who uses a battery in their product says this.

Lightweight Structures

If you’ve ever looked at a high-performance glider, you’ll see that they are the featherweights of the aviation world and are built mainly from ultra lightweight composites.

Boeing have gone this route with the 787 Dreamliner and the aircraft has been a success.

Unfortunately, Boeing’s accountants have trashed the company, by trying to prolong the life of the obsolete 737 too far, instead of developing a composite replacement.

By the end of this decade all aircraft will be made from lightweight composite structures.

Interstingly, the only all new electric passenger aircraft; the Eviation Alice has a fully-composite airframe.

Lightweight structures will help create lower carbon emissions on traditional aircraft, by reducing fuel burn, but will really help in creating new aircraft types. Some of which will look very unusual.

Better Aerodynamics

Aerodynamics are getting more efficient and this will reduce fuel burn and have two effects on aircraft design.

  • They will make existing designs more efficient.
  • They will improve the design of electric aircraft designed on a clean sheet of paper.

Expect to see some very weird looking aircraft. Look at Eviation Alice, which could evolve into a twenty seat aircraft with a range exceeding six hundred miles.

Hybrid-Powered Aircraft

I can’t with current technology, see an all-electric aircraft powered by batteries having a range greater than perhaps six hundred miles and a capacity of greater than perhaps 20 passengers. The mathematics and the physics say no!

Some aero engine manufacturers are talking about hybrid power, where a small turbofan engine is paired with a battery and electric motors.

I think it could be a way to extend the range of electric aircraft, without creating significant emissions. Aviation biofuel would fit well with a hybrid aviation powerplant, as it would further remove emissions.

Completely Automatic Flight

The pilot of a modern airliner does very little flying and there is no reason, pilots couldn’t do as little to fly the plane, as a driver on a Victoria Line tube has done since 1967 to drive the train.

When a train is ready to depart, the driver presses a button and the train moves automatically to the next station.

If anything unusual happens, the driver takes control.

Why not with airliners?

Point-To-Point Air Services

In MagniX Electric Aircraft Engines Take To The Skies, I put this quote from magniX, who make the electric motors for electric aircraft.

magniX says 45% of all airline flights cover less than 800 km, while 5% of flights are sub-160 km.

These flights will be the first to go electric.

But they are not really suited for an airport like Heathrow or Gatwick, as each plane needs a separate take-off and landing slot to fit in with conventional flights.

Heathrow want a third runway to increase capacity.

Perhaps it should be for electric flights only!

  • Electric aircraft will be low-noise and create no pollution.
  • It would have its own terminal.
  • Charging facilities would be built into the terminal.
  • Taxi distances would be short.
  • The runway would only need to be short.
  • Passengers would have to arrive and leave by zero-carbon transport.
  • There might even be space for two runways; one for landing and one of take-off.

I can see a network of both smaller airports and satellites at major airports developing, that are designed for electric aircraft.

  • Some airports, like possibly London City, might convert to all-electric, due to their sensitive locations.
  • Other important towns and cities without an airport, might develop new all-electric airports.
  • Hubs might develop at convenient locations in the UK, for short trips to the Continent and Ireland. Perhaps a high speed rail-connected Manston Airport would be ideal for electric flights to Belgium, The Netherlands and Northern France.

Frequent point-to-point electric flights could create a zero-carbon short-haul network for flights of up to about six hundred miles.

Rail Journeys Less Than Four Hours

It is accepted by many analysts and rail companies, that if a train takes less than four hours, then it is a viable alternative to flying.

  • Could the success of Eurostar’s London and Amsterdam route, be partly down to the that it’s four hours?
  • First Group subsidiary; East Coast Trains have stated they will target air passengers, with a sub four-hour, one-class £25 train journey between London and Edinburgh.
  • High Speed Two is currently promising three hours and forty minute journeys between London and Edinburgh/Glasgow, when their service starts.

I believe that rail companies all over the world will see tempting air passengers to use rail, as a market to develop.

Zoom And Other Internet Techniques

During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, families and others have started using Internet conferencing in a big way.

But will other software develop, that will have the effect of both cutting flying or making it more zero-carbon.

Suppose, I wanted to visit several cities in the United States. Is there an Internet site that tells me how to do it to create the least amount of CO2?

Biofuel For Short Flights

When I laid out the factors, I only mentioned aviation biofuels once.

That was in conjunction with hybrid aircraft, that use both jet and electric power.

If the hybrid technology succeeds, it may mean that flights up to about a thousand miles are possible and this would include a lot of short haul flights around the world. With biofuels and hybrid powerplants, carbon dioxide emissions will be greatly reduced and could probably be managed by carbon offset measures like tree-planting.

Biofuel For Long Flights

As aircraft get more efficient using biofuel will help to reduce the amount of emissions, to a level that could be balanced by carbon offset.

This will be an expensive process for airlines, as probably most fleets will need to be replaced with more fuel efficient planes.

But this is happening, as 757s and A380 are being replaced by Dreamliners and other more fuel efficient types.

Conclusion

By 2035, most short haul flights will be electric or some form of hybrid power, although a lot will be replaced by high speed rail.

Biofuel won’t save long-haul flights, but it will make them economic for the airlines.

I suspect that there will be a lot of aluminium aircraft going for scrap.

June 16, 2020 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Modern glass cockpit airliners of all sizes (including business aircraft) operating from fully equipped airports already pretty much fly themselves generally as soon as gear is up on takeoff through to just after landing.

    A lot of the pilot workload is interacting with air traffic control, transcribing dynamic routing instructions into flight management system and autopilot. Some of this could be further automated or remotely performed.

    There is a growing issue that pilots aren’t getting enough “stick time” in real aircraft to keep up their skills for emergencies, with costly sim time at risk of being salami sliced by accountants as a “controlable” spend of cash leaving the business (OpEx rental or CapEx to own just enough sim equipment with OpEx support costs).

    Comment by MilesT | June 16, 2020 | Reply

  2. Anti gravity is the way to go. A magnetically suspended vehicle would need little energy to move from place to place. I believe the Germans were susposed to have achieved a system in 1944. Admiral Bird came up against them in Antarctica in a battle that he lost. Perhaps the Americans have it hidden in area 51?

    Comment by jagracer | June 16, 2020 | Reply


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