The end of the health crisis has encouraged the resumption of activities in the aviation sector. Aircraft account for only 3.77% of the European Parliament’s GHG emissions and their use is expected to double by 2050. Thus, to reach the ecological objective of zero carbon by 2050, it would be necessary to create alternatives to reduce the emissions of these aircraft.
Aeronautics accounts for between 3 and 4% of GHG emissions. “It may not seem like much, but every 15 years the number of aircraft flying doubles. The impact of aviation on the environment is growing,” says aeronautics specialist Jérôme Rein. Airline companies and manufacturers seem to have integrated this societal concern about the environment and ecology.
Thus, for more and more companies, the switch to electric power turns out to be a sustainable and economical solution.
Despite the problem of its heavy and massive batteries, the airplane continues to transform itself step by step. “Electrification takes different forms. It’s been happening in bits and pieces for about 30 years, even before ecological considerations were taken into account. When the A320 came out in 1985, Airbus introduced electric flight controls, which have since become the norm,” says Jérôme Rein.
Other innovations are also ready, such as the Boeing 787, which is no longer using kerosene for part of its braking system, and is now powered by electricity. “This innovation is ready today. Safran has developed this solution,” says Jérôme Rein.
In addition, a number of aircraft projects have already been launched, which most of them involve private jets capable of carrying 10 to 15 passengers. “For the time being, these are still research projects, but they’re fairly certain,” says Jérôme Rein.
To limit the environmental footprint of current aircraft, the electrification of non-propulsion systems and the propulsion chain is a promising way forward.
The expected gains suggest a reduction in pollutant emissions, particularly CO2, and potentially a reduction in noise emissions.
The HASTECS project, launched by the INP Toulouse (National Polytechnic Institute), aims to identify promising technologies and innovate tools to reduce aircraft fuel consumption, which would reduce nuisances in civil aviation. Scheduled to last five years, the HASTECS (Hybrid Aircraft – Academic reSearch on thermal and Electrical Components) project is supported by the European Commission and the aeronautics industry to the tune of 1.5 million euros.
The research work will be carried out by CIRIMAT, which specializes in materials and batteries, by the LAPLACE laboratory, which specializes in electrical energy conversion, and by the Prime Institute, which is dedicated to thermal management.
In addition, to reduce fuel consumption, they will also double the ratio between the power and mass of the machines and their power supply, to reduce the weight of the aircraft by about 1.8 tons.
In partnership with Wright Electric, an American start-up supported by Nasa, Easy Jet plans to fly its first electrically powered aircraft by 2030.
Its main objective would be to power the equivalent of an Airbus carrying 186 passengers on board. “We need batteries that are twice as powerful as today. But we think the industry will be able to do it,” quotes Jeffrey Engler, Wright Electric’s CEO.
The British company announced last year that its partner Wright Electric, had completed the first ground tests of its high-powered electric motor. “We are now beginning testing of our 2 MW electric powertrain and collecting data for flight certification,” Wright Electric’s CEO says.