The search for alternate sources of fuel may sometimes seem like an issue limited to the automotive industry. And its true that at this point the automotive industry takes up a much larger chunk of the carbon pie than air travel does—that’s because car travel is part of the daily grind a large percentage of the developed world’s population, whereas air-travel is perceived as more of an occasional luxury, often associated with vacations.
However a growing number of people in our global economy utilize air travel in their daily or weekly commutes.
The city of London’s population swells by millions every week as people—not only from the suburbs—but from Spain, France and Germany commute there by airplane to go to work for the week. However the use of air travel for any one commute costs more in carbon than car travel by about 20%.
The greenhouse gases that are produced by air travel are just going to keep growing with the amount of travelers that use the travel services of the aviation division. It is estimated that aircraft contribute at least 2% of the total emissions worldwide; as the industry grows that percentage is staged to increase to 3% in the coming decades.
So it may be true that car’s pose a greater threat to the environment and to the economy on the whole. However, fuel economy’s relevance to the aviation industry may actually be even greater than it is to the automotive industry because for aviation companies slight oscillations in the cost of fuel can throw profit projections and debt-to-income ratios into disarray. Therefore, many consider the hunt for a new type of jet fuel to be at the forefront of the overall alternate fuels issue.
The cost to fuel aircraft also continues to be a challenge for major airlines and travelers.
Producers of the fuel are affected by the increase in crude oil prices so they pass those expenses along to the airlines and in turn frequent fliers have to pay higher prices for travel. Aircraft developers and airline corporations are faced with two sometimes conflicting and sometimes identical goals:
- The challenge to lower costs.
- The challenge of reducing their environmental footprint.
The trick—from an academic perspective and from the perspective of environmentally conscious, activist engineers—is to turn these two goals into the same goal, to make reduced environmental impact correspond seamlessly with lowered costs for airlines. It’s a lofty goal and compromises always have to be made, but engineers and specialist in aviation management are making a lot of headway.
One of the most intriguing developments in this area has been that of biofuel, also known as green jet fuel.
In particular, industry leader Honeywell has seen very promising results from a biofuel created from a plant known as Brassica carinata, which is a member of the cabbage family. Another company, Linc Energy, has been developing underground coal gasification as a source of clean jet fuel.
Until a new source of jet fuel is discovered, the only way to minimize the environmental impact of flying commercial jets remains operating them as efficiently as possible. Therefore, aviation management experts strive to plot plane schedules and routes to minimize as much waste as they can. Recent technological developments, including those in new fuels, mean this is an extremely interesting time to study the field—whether you’re a chemistry student working on alternative fuels or a future flight coordinator learning about aviation management.
The Rise of Alternative Fuels
One company in particular that’s been doing some interesting work is named Honeywell in partnership with researchers at universities like Purdue: they’ve been working with the cabbage plant and has transformed it into a biofuel called Brassica Carinata. Honeywell is taking this biofuel research to the next level, and they may well be developing the next generation of fuel for aircraft.
The introduction of the whole biofuel concept has made an impact in the automotive industry, and particularly in the trucking industry as they begin to experiment with the implementation of Biodiesel as an alternate fuel and cost-saver. Honeywell’s green jet fuel has been developed in the lab and is being tested in the field to determine if it will be a viable means of power the powerful aircraft. Some major companies are even looking into using plants or coal to power aircraft while lessoning the harmful emissions.
How Aviation Management Saves Fuel
Until a friendly fuel is found for the aviation industry they will have to continue to take steps to lower their footprint. The best way to manage the emissions of fuel is to set aviation management experts in place to optimize the flight paths and timing of the air travel that is already scheduled and taking place using the old school fuels. As with fleet management in the trucking industry, aviation management can leverage exist patterns of travel to increase profits for the aircraft company and reduce their carbon footprint. There are—and will continue to be—a lot of exciting opportunities for young students and job-seekers in our evolving green economy.