Did you ever think that vegetable cooking oil or mustards seeds would fuel your journey in an airplane? If you said no, think again. Today, these ingredients are making alternative energy for aircrafts a reality, transforming the aviation industry.
Currently, the principal sources of alternative energy in the aviation industry are alternative fuels, solar energy, and hydrogen. While in the past, alternative fuels were being heavily investigated for the automobiles sector, the push for change is now moving to the aviation industry. Even though aircrafts generate roughly only one-ninth the carbon emissions that automobiles do, their environmental impact is greater because they go higher up in the atmosphere. In 2014, aviation accounts for 2% of global emissions and this is expected to grow to 3% by 2050. The industry is looking to reduce their emissions by 30% per passenger during this period.
This is where solar energy steps in. Take for instance Solar Impulse 2—a revolutionary aircraft powered by 17,248 solar cells that flies with no fuel, making it the only airplane in the world with the capability to fly non-stop. The solar cells cover about 200 sq. meters of the wings, allowing the panels to theoretically produce 50,000 watts of power, making it the most energy efficient plane ever built. However, since Impulse still weighs just two tons and a typical passenger plane weighs 560 tons, it cannot compete with traditional air travel just yet. Still, it is clearly a significant beginning.
Several other airlines have been experimenting with alternative sources of energy as well. Recently, Boeing renewed the interest in biofuel when it sought approval for the clearance of its $3-a-gallon green diesel blend as an alternative to jet fuel. This biofuel promises to reduce carbon emissions by 50%. In fact, Boeing also expects that aviation industry’s biofuel goals can be met by the year 2015!
Other industry experts suggest that the best long-term solution is likely to come from algae-based biofuels. This approach, which grows algae to manufacture jet fuel, is still emerging. But it is estimated that it could produce an oil yield up to 15 times that of other biofuel plants.
The final economic and environmental impact of alternative energy sources is immense. In 2012, Lufthansa’s first six-month biofuel initiative reduced carbon emissions by 1471 tons. In addition, other forecasts project that in 20 years cost-efficient biofuels will reduce operating costs and ticket prices within the industry substantially.
How will alternative energy sources assist the aviation industry to create more powerful airplanes and fuels? Share your views with us in the comments box below.
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