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A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation

Do you dream of catching a short flight between cities or journeying across the globe? The aviation industry currently makes up 2-3% of all carbon emissions, but the shift toward electric and hybrid aircraft will help tackle climate change and minimize the environmental impacts of commercial aviation.  

Sustainable flight will revolutionize the way we travel. From battery-powered aircraft that reduce fuel consumption, to new lightweight materials that can improve safety and efficiency during flight, here are a few important things to know about the world of sustainable aviation, and what it takes to make air travel cleaner and safer for our planet.

What is Electrified Aircraft Propulsion?

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation

Similar to electric or hybrid-electric cars, sustainable aircraft designs feature electric powertrain systems – the system of components that help propel an aircraft during flight – to help reduce fuel use and emissions. Electrified Aircraft Propulsion (EAP) systems let aircraft work using electric motors, and alternative fuels, rather than relying solely on traditional jet engines burning fossil fuels. At NASA, we’re developing innovative EAP technologies ranging from advanced electric machines designed to increase power and performance to new aircraft materials developed to minimize weight and reduce fuel usage.

What are the challenges with electrifying flight?

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation
A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation

Unlike electric vehicles on the ground, electrified aircraft face greater challenges when managing weight and heat while they’re running. In order to ensure maximum efficiency and safety, aircraft components must be designed with minimal weight to help reduce the amount of drag slowing the plane down and causing excess fuel burn. Electrified aircraft must also have advanced thermal management systems to help transfer heat effectively, and ensure onboard systems are kept cool to avoid damage.  

Our research and development of EAP technologies offer innovative solutions to these challenges. Designed to keep weight at a minimum, aircraft components such as the High Efficiency Megawatt Motor feature advanced technology that enable increased power and efficiency with three times less heat loss and weight than traditional aircraft motors. New material technologies such as electrical insulation also help transport heat more effectively to minimize heat buildup and are made of lightweight materials to ensure efficiency at high altitudes.

What are the benefits of sustainable aviation?

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation

From an environmental perspective, aircraft electrification offers unique opportunities to lower global emissions and minimize reliance on fossil fuels. The introduction of hybrid- or fully electric aircraft will significantly reduce overall fuel consumption by generating power and thrust via electricity and electric motors. Lightweight EAP systems and components can also help improve aircraft efficiency and reduce fuel burn, while using non-conventional, alternative fuels can help reduce harmful emissions. From an economic standpoint, EAP technologies could help strengthen commercial airliner markets with aircraft designed for around 180 passengers. Green technologies can also benefit both airline companies and you when you fly by potentially reducing aircraft maintenance and in-flight energy costs, making air travel more affordable.   

When will sustainable flight take off?

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Aviation

To help turn visions of eco-friendly air travel into reality, we’re teaming up with industry to test EAP technologies on aircraft and introduce them to the U.S. commercial aviation fleet no later than 2035.  

Under our Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) project, we will conduct ground and flight tests using existing aircraft modified with EAP systems to assist in transitioning these technologies into commercial products. Flight demonstrations will also enable us to identify key risks and barriers associated with integrating new EAP systems into commercial airliners and develop new standards for future EAP aircraft as they take to the skies within the next decade. 

There you have it: a quick glimpse into the world of sustainable aviation, and the shift towards keeping our skies cleaner and safer. As we embark on this journey, climb aboard and stay up to date on our latest technology developments and future flight demonstrations.  

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