Everyone knows that the largest source of CO2 emissions in the aviation industry is the jet fuel used in flight, so it is obvious that our source of energy is main challenge faced by the industry in reducing its impact on the environment.
Cutting the amount of fuel we use is a very important part of the strategy, but there is also a lot of work being done on changing the type of fuel we can use. A lot of this focus has been on a new type of liquid fuel – namely sustainable alternative fuels. Other options have always been seen as a long-way off and held at the concept stage.
Good news! That aspiration has just moved one step closer with the successful test flight of the world’s first hybrid aircraft, which was developed by a team of researchers from Boeing and Cambridge University. While the creation of a hybrid plane is in itself a pretty impressive feat, these researchers have taken it even further by designing a parallel hybrid engine, which actually recharges its battery whilst in flight.
Ok, so the plane in question is only a small prototype and the engineers are a long way from developing an engine that could power a commercial passenger flight. It is also almost certain that liquid jet fuel (both fossil and alternative) won’t be completely replaced any time soon, as the power needed to lift a plane off the ground simply can’t be produced with any other energy source. At least not at the moment… However, what this does show is that there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make air travel more sustainable. We are hopeful that technology like this will become feasible on a large scale – in the meantime I guess it’s a case of “watch this space”!
Here's a short clip of Dr Paul Robertson of Cambridge's Department of Engineering explaining the project in more detail: