by Katie Valentine
Aviation accounts for 13 percent of transportation carbon dioxide emissions globally. By 2050, the IPCC projects that aviation will account for 5 percent of global warming. As technologies improve, Airplanes are getting more efficient. But some of those efficiency improvements are being cancelled out by increasing aviation demand, particularly in developing countries.
So what to do? Some companies rethinking the airplane in order to realize far greater efficiency. Boeing is rolling out a new project, called the EcoDemonstrator, that is serving as a test bed for technologies that can dramatically reduce fuel consumption:
This next generation Boeing 737-800 came to D.C. last week after 45 days of flight testing in Glasgow, Montana. These tests allowed Boeing engineers to gather data on how the energy-saving additions and modifications performed in flight – in place of seats, the cabin of the plane was filled with racks of computers and monitoring equipment.
The technologies being tested on the ecoDemonstrator include:
- Adaptive wing edges that change to accommodate different phases of flight, reducing fuel consumption by increasing aerodynamics
- Variable area fan nozzles that adjust to optimize airflow during takeoff and landing, reducing takeoff noise and fuel consumption
- A regenerative hydrogen fuel cell that provides an additional source of power and stores energy when electricity demand is low
- iPad-like devices on the flight deck that provide satellite weather reports and find the most fuel-efficient ways to avoid weather and other flight constraints
- Carpet made from recycled materials that can be replaced tile by tile as it is worn, instead of replacing the entire carpet
The 737-800 is the first plane in the multi-year ecoDemonstrator program developed by Boeing, American Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) program in July 2011. The program will test different planes with fuel-saving and noise-reducing technologies in 2013, 2014 and possibly 2015. After this year’s testing is done, the new technologies will be removed and the plane will be returned to American Airlines.
Hopefully, though, the technology tested on the ecoDemonstrator will pave the way for more fuel-efficient aircraft in the future – aviation carbon dioxide emissions are set to quadruple by 2050 if new policies or technologies aren’t put in place to drastically cut fuel use.
Katie Valentie is a graduate of the University of Georgia. She currently interns on the international climate policy team at the Center for American Progress.