Paris, FrankfurtIf the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget has an issue, then it is the almost systemic conflict between flying and climate protection. In the past, the major aircraft manufacturers could still flirt with low-emission equipment. By now they have understood that it is bitter seriousness. A playing field has to become a serious pillar.
Rethinking has begun, as evidenced by Le Bourget. The technology chiefs (CTOs) of the seven largest industrial companies in the industry want to cooperate in the future to "develop aircraft, engines and technology that reduce fuel consumption and reduce CO2 emissions." Among them are the ore competitors Airbus, Boeing and Dassault, and with GE, Rolls Royce, Safran and United Technologies (mother of Pratt & Whitney) also the leading engine manufacturers.
Since the beginning of the year, new mobility has gained momentum, especially in the context of the goal of reducing CO2 emissions. Experts at the US investment bank Jefferies warn that the issue of the environment poses a significant "risk of contagion" and increasing uncertainty.
The CTOs explicitly support the goal of reducing air transport CO2 emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050, despite rapid growth rates. Over the next two decades, the number of commercial civil aircraft is expected to double to around 40,000.
Many things are tried. The Israeli company Eviation, for example, is presenting its all-electric regional aircraft Alice in Le Bourget. Nine people can fly it 650 miles and cover many city connections in Europe, the US or Asia. As early as 2022, delivery is to begin.
United Technologies presents plans for a hybrid drive. Electric motors should complement the classic engines. By 2020, "Project 804" will take off, a modified Dash regional aircraft from Bombardier. A turboprop engine is supplemented by an electric power unit. Where luggage is transported today, batteries can be accommodated.
The technical challenge is the power density of the engines. Peak are currently 500 kilowatts per kilogram. The Project 804 is supposed to create a megawatt. Adding electric turbines to both turboprops could save "30 percent of CO2 emissions," says technology chief Paul Eremenko.
The basic idea: In the climb, in which a lot of power is required and a lot of pollutants are blown into the air, switch the electric motors and consume the entire battery charge. It will be replenished only after landing.
Ten years later, Eremenko even sees a plane in the size class of the A320 or Boeing 737 with electric motors and a power density of ten megawatts. The power supply should be designed for 1000 volts. Already at 48 volt systems in the car some maintenance technicians get cold feet.
Everywhere the topic is being worked on. The British engine manufacturer Rolls Royce will take over the development of electrical aircraft engines from Siemens at the end of the year. The engine manufacturer MTU in turn participates in the Aachen flight taxi developer e.SAT, who also works on hybrid drives.
But experts warn of euphoria when it comes to electric or electro-hybrid aircraft engines. Bjorn Fehrm, technology expert of aviation information service provider Leeham, sees significant differences to the car, where both technologies work. Every time the engine slows down, the energy that had to be invested to accelerate was thrown away. Modern electric cars would recover the energy of braking. That would not be possible in an airplane. "All energy is needed here to overcome the air resistance." Even when landing that was the case.
Aircraft are very sensitive in weight
As a consequence, electric aircraft need a lot of battery power, which in turn means a lot of weight. "A plane is very sensitive to the topic of weight, a car is not," said Fehrm. Even electric-hybrid drives encounter great challenges at this point, says Fehrm.
In addition, an electric-hybrid drive must face the competition of classic drives. That would be a challenge, because the turbofan engines would be more efficient. And cleaner, as shown in Le Bourget in the hall of the Paris Air Lab. Under the wing of a Concorde – as supersonic aircraft symbol of energy waste, but still good to look at – shows a consortium of companies his research results.
Wood shavings, yellowish and greenish liquids, but also a colorless, which achieves kerosene quality. "We can get the kerosene substitute from wood waste or from a plant that is commonly considered weeds," says a Safran engineer. "Thus, the cultivation does not compete with the land use for the animal or human nutrition." Over the entire production cycle, 60 percent less CO2 is released. But the Frenchman also points out the disadvantage: "The alternative kerosene is still three times as expensive as one that is made from petroleum."
Here the cat bites its tail: Because alternative kerosene is expensive, it is not made. Because the amount is missing, it remains expensive. You can not tax it because aviation fuel is not taxed. What leads the employee of an engine manufacturer to an unusual suggestion: "Taxes conventional kerosene, then the" green "kerosene has a chance!"
Even if you take all the approaches known today, you will not yet reach a radical change. The 50 percent reduction by 2050 is not yet plausibly deposited. "My dream is that (the Swedish climate activist) Greta Thunberg in a few years in an emission-free aircraft increases," said Airbus CTO Grazia Vittadini recently. We still do not see how this dream could become reality.
More: Kerosene tax, ticket delivery, CO2 price: these ideas of politics alert airline managers.
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