On the 18th March 2017 an article was published on the Die Welt website discussing the impact of passenger jets on the environment and a solution being researched by Nasa. They have been looking into the amount of soot released into the atmosphere by passenger jets. The tiny soot particles, once blown into the atmosphere by the jet engines, act as nuclei for small ice crystals, which form the trails you see across the sky behind an aeroplane. These trails can remain for several hours in the sky and have a substantial effect on the climate.
Nasa have found that if a 50/50 mix of biofuels and kerosine is used in jet engines then the amount of soot released into the atmosphere is reduced by 50 to 70%. The research, which was carried out by flying behind a four jet Nasa aeroplane, also found that at high thrust it was less effective.
Currently, air traffic is responsible for 5% of human impact on climate change. If research on mixing biofuel continues at pace, and more biofuels can get through the strict regulation for fuel used in passenger aircraft, it will certainly make a difference for the climate change burden upon passenger aircraft companies. Despite this, there will still be fossil carbon being pumped into the atmosphere by jet planes, and biofuels are also not without their controversy, such as taking up agricultural land that should be used for food crops.
Another solution for the passenger plane industry would be to increase their investment in synthetic fuels created using renewable energy, without the need for any fossil fuel. One airline is already currently investing in the technology of Sunfire, which enables the power to fuel process to take place using renewable energy, carbon dioxide and water. The CO2 in the process is collected using an innovative solution by Climeworks, a Swiss company. Their revolutionary CO2 filtering material enables a closed carbon cycle in which all CO2 that is pumped into the atmosphere, when the fuel is combusted, has been taken from the atmosphere.
By using the e-synthetic fuel, which is very pure, in jet aeroplanes, there will still be the trails streaming out behind aeroplanes across the sky. The difference will be that these trails contain no fossil fuel and therefore the journeys that airplanes make will have a carbon footprint of almost zero.
Nasa are undertaking important research and hopefully this will be the catalyst that pushes the airline industry to clean up their emissions. The tech is ready to make air travel carbon neutral it is just a matter of time before more airlines invest in it and develop it even further.
For more information about Nasa’s research see their press release here. 8th of March 2017 was a momentous day for the future of climate friendly mobility in Switzerland.