Scientists and industry leaders are actively seeking ways to make aviation sustainable by 2050, with a significant focus on finding a viable sustainable fuel. In a groundbreaking study, Phil Ansell, an aerospace engineer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, conducted an extensive analysis of over 300 research projects to evaluate and compare various energy carriers for aviation. His goal was to identify a sustainable and permanent solution for the future of aviation.
Ansell’s study, titled “Review of sustainable energy carriers for aviation: Benefits, challenges, and future viability,” considers an array of options including bio jet fuel pathways, power-to-liquid pathways, liquid hydrogen, ammonia, liquid natural gas, ethanol, methanol, and battery electric systems. Key factors assessed for each fuel included its impact on aircraft performance, fuel handling, emissions, cost, scalability, resource and land requirements, as well as social impacts.
Ansell emphasizes the importance of addressing the environmental, economic, and societal aspects of an energy carrier to ensure its sustainability. Additionally, he highlights the need for collaboration between stakeholders in the industry as they may prioritize different challenges and perspectives.
Contrary to the belief that only one alternative fuel can be chosen, Ansell suggests that a combination of solutions may be more viable. For example, utilizing hydrogen to produce synthetic aviation fuels or using biomass to produce hydrogen. This approach allows for a diversified and more flexible strategy for sustainable aviation.
Ansell acknowledges the complexities associated with biofuels, particularly in relation to land use changes and competition with crop production for food and animal feed. However, he asserts that thorough assessment considering specific circumstances is necessary for accurate evaluation.
While Ansell admits his personal bias towards hydrogen due to his extensive research in the field, he emphasizes that hydrogen presents unique infrastructural and integration challenges. Nevertheless, he remains confident that these challenges can be overcome given previous successful implementations.
The study also explores the potential of biofuels derived from various sources such as municipal waste, seaweed, and algae. However, Ansell cautions that the use of certain first-generation biofuels, such as corn ethanol, may pose challenges as they limit the availability of corn for traditional uses.
This comprehensive assessment provides valuable insights into the current landscape of sustainable aviation fuels and offers a data-driven foundation for future discussions and decisions within the industry.
– “Review of sustainable energy carriers for aviation: Benefits, challenges, and future viability” by Phillip J. Ansell, Progress in Aerospace Sciences.