New materials to cut aircraft emissions

IN a bid to reduce pollution researchers are developing new materials that will make aircraft lighter and stronger, saving energy costs and making aeroplanes more environmentally-friendly.

Aviation emissions account for around three per cent of global warming, while air travel is expected to increase by approximately five per cent each year over the next 20 years.

The aviation industry in Europe has agreed to a set of targets that would reduce fuel and carbon dioxide emissions by 50 per cent per passenger kilometre, nitrous oxide emissions by 80 per cent, and noise pollution by 50 per cent.

London’s Imperial College is working towards a new generation of ultra light commercial passenger aircraft that can fly faster over longer distances, producing lower emissions and less noise.

The Imperial College team is designing new types of spoilers that create a high frequency sound when an aeroplane comes into land, dissipating the low frequency sound and neutralising the noise pollution.

Drag causes aircraft to burn more fuel. A solution is to develop a new electro-active plastic for covering aircraft fuselages and wings that can reduce drag by pulsing low-level electrical currents through it. The pulses distort the plastic and therefore the air flowing over the aeroplane, reducing the impact of drag and thereby improving fuel consumption and reducing emissions.

Reducing the number of aircraft components could bring new efficiencies such as an ultra-high capacity airliner design, where the aircraft’s wings also do the job of the tail surfaces that keep the aeroplane stable in the air.

Researchers are also developing new types of composite materials that can be used to make aircraft stronger, lighter and more fuel-efficient.

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