There is no time to waste.
The latest report of the IPCC (the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) leaves no room for interpretation or sugarcoating. Climate change now produces impact already evident on more than 3 billion people and it is necessary to speed-up adaptation and mitigation measures to keep the global temperature’s increase within 1.5° Celsius.
Europe has urgently and attentively welcomed this latest report. The next one will be issued by 2030, when the desired effects of the Fit for 55 plan should be tangible, aiming to cut CO2 emissions in half – and urged national governments and every economic sector.
Just three days after the release of the IPCC report, the aviation sector – which accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions – gathered in Brussels for the return of the Clean Aviation Annual Forum. More than 200 people (with hundreds more online, for a total of 1,150 attendees) sat in the conference hall to witness “the most capable and experienced representatives of aviation,” as Axel Krein, Clean Aviation’s Executive Director, put it in his opening speech. “The clock is ticking, and European aviation must continue to lead the way.”
“Today, I see policymakers, aircraft and aircraft engine makers, industry supply chain leaders and researchers in front of me, united in their efforts to accelerate top level new technology development, new regulations, and government action,” Krein said. “I am also gratified to see numerous representatives from airlines, airports, energy and fuel producers joining our network to present solutions for climate neutral aviation.”
Krein was quick to cite the IPCC report and how it intersects with the EU Green Deal and to point out that the research and innovation program he heads has been committed to climate neutrality and more sustainable air transport since Clean Sky was first launched in 2007. Through Clean Sky 2, and with the advent of Clean Aviation last fall, the goal is now to leverage the achievements of previous technology development and demonstration projects to hit the first common targets on the horizon: reduce the emission footprint of commercial air travel by by no less than -30% in short to medium-haul routes and -50% in regional routes (compared to 2020 state-of-the-art aircraft) by 2030.
Indeed, the European Commission’s public-private partnership has made available a budget of more than € four billion for the new projects announced a few months ago. During the forum, Krein reiterated the momentous challenges faced and that that everyone must do their part for sustainability.
Clean Aviation’s new course is based on the so-called three thrusts that include the development of enabling technologies, leveraging essential knowledge and capabilities, and de-risking the maturation and validation of such technologies and solutions to maximizing their impact. To accomplish this, The three thrusts focus on research and development areas across the thrusts: aircraft configuration and technology integration, new certification methods and regulatory means.
However, all of this needs political support, new rules and streamlining of procedures. The need bureaucratic speed and simplification for strategies and business plans was the mantra reiterated from the Forum stage. It was also reinforced by Henrik Hololei, Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission.
“Aviation needs to continue to set an example of foresight and preparedness toward transportation sustainability challenges,” Hololei said in his address to the Forum. “For example, we need to increase the production of SAF (sustainable alternative fuels) and we want to do that by 2025.”
The call for new, engaged engineers, scientists and researchers is another necessary ingredient to success, said Avio Aero CEO Riccardo Procacci during his speech. Speaking alongside the CEO of Universal Hydrogen, the CEO of Widerøe Zero and the Group Markets Director of EasyJet during the Forum’s panel “Fueling the future of flight: Electric, E-fuels or Hydrogen,” Procacci recalled the value of the partnership with Clean Aviation since about 2006. Crucial technology achievements and demonstrations are necessary, he said, and joined the call to continue toward ground and airborne demonstrations of hybrid-electric and hydrogen propulsion solutions the company is advancing.
“We strongly believe in and love what we do,” Procacci said. “With our parent company GE Aerospace, we have invested more than $1.9 billion in R&D. Our commitment also includes programs like Clean Aviation with the presence of partners like Airbus and Safran, with whom we collaborate rather than compete in this case, as we want to enable significant investment in Europe that is beneficial for the entire aviation sector. We will need the seamless support from European policymakers to allow the resources towards the EU to continue. At the same time, new technologies alone cannot meet short-term objectives of emissions reduction, and therefore SAFs are essential, I would say inevitable, for the transition.”
Sustainable fuels were also discussed by EasyJet’s Group Markets Director, Thomas Haagensen, as part of a roadmap toward reducing emissions for the European airline, which has a fleet of more than 300 single-aisle aircraft, all powered by CFM International* engines (CFM56 and LEAP). In this case, *LEAP engines for airlines generated an average of 19% improvement in fuel consumption over the conventional CFM56s.
Hydrogen was the focus of the second day at the Forum, along with medium to short-range hybrid electric aircraft configurations and new certification processes. Avio Aero’s Research and Technologies leader Luca Bedon, joined the panel on “Propulsion Efficiency and Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft.”
Bedon emphasized the need to look at all solutions in technology development and demonstration work simultaneously, and to look at every segment of air transport (from small jets to large aircraft for intercontinental flights).
“SAFs seem like a possible answer in all segments and are already available. However, we need to consider the availability and competition there will be with the automotive market, at least for some biofuels, so we need to envision the future adoption of SAFs only for applications that will not be able to take advantage of electrification and direct use of hydrogen,” Bedon said.
Bedon outlined how the new propulsion technologies would be adopted as they are going to reach the required level of maturity. “The expectation is to see hydrogen implemented first on smaller aircraft, then on regional ones, to power fuel cells in hybrid electric architectures. Hydrogen combustion, on the other hand, will require technological maturation and could potentially become the fuel for short- and medium-haul aircraft, which today account for 80% of daily flights and are responsible for two thirds of total emissions.”
Bedon also reviewed the three projects of Clean Aviation that Avio Aero is putting forth all its efforts together with partners at every level. The two he coordinates directly are AMBER, a hybrid-electric system developed around the new Catalyst engine, and HYDEA, which will use a GE’s Passport engine that will see the redesign of the cryogenic fuel system along with the components involved in combustion. A ground test a demonstrator is the first phase followed by an in flight test on an A380. Finally, there is Ophelia, devoted to the propulsive efficiency of an open-fan architecture with an advanced turbine system that will provide a 20% reduction in fuel consumption through CFM’s RISE demonstrator.
After the show, we interviewed Axel Krein, Riccardo Procacci, Luca Bedon, and the and the Head of Programs at Clean Aviation, Sébastien Dubois. Watch the summary of those interviews.
*The LEAP engine is a product of CFM International, a 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.