Earlier this week, the American aerospace technology administration announced that the technology they are developing could save US airlines over $250 billion dollars in fuel costs, due to lower consumption. If you look at that from an emissions point of view, that equates to a saving of roughly 80 billion gallons of fuel or over 77 million tonnes of CO2.
So what have they been working on and how could these radical technologies help increase fuel efficiency and cut emissions? Well, in 2009 NASA set up a research project called Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA), with the express aim of addressing aviation’s impact on the climate. In many cases, trying to alleviate one undesirable effect of air travel, such as emissions, noise or pollution means sacrificing another to some degree. ERA, however, was set up with the goal of minimising all the negative effects at once, so called ‘integrated solutions’.
The project came to a conclusion at the end of 2015 and the outcomes could prove invaluable. We are still a long way from commercial scale electric aircraft, so the main focus of the ERA project was more on the short and medium-term (although, NASA are working on new concept aircraft through other projects), mainly based on lighter, more aerodynamic aircraft components and more efficient engines.
NASA are hopeful that by 2025, all of the technologies developed through the ERA project will be found flying somewhere in the US fleet. The technology, then, is there. The next step is for manufacturing partners to work on incorporating them into their own designs.