The international aviation and maritime transport sectors are the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions. Together they account for almost 7% of total EU GHG emissions. It is only recently that these two sectors have taken initiatives to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, both at the European and global levels.
Lightweight, strong and durable, composites are one of the ideal environmental materials for reducing the carbon footprint of aviation and maritime transport. These sectors are taking advantage of the lightness of composite materials to develop more eco-friendly aircraft and ships. In this article we will study the different applications of composite materials to green the maritime and aeronautical sectors.
Aeronautical sector: lightening and optimization of aircraft.
From General Electric Aviation’s latest engine to futuristic aircraft, composite materials continue to gain ground in aeronautics. To lighten aircraft, many companies and start-ups have developed advanced composite structures that can reduce the empty weight of aircraft by up to 20%, therebyreducing their fuel consumption and carbon footprint.
This is the case of the French start-up VoltAero, which plans to industrialize by 2023 its small regional aircraft whose wings, tailplane and canards are entirely made of composite material in order to reduce weight and optimize the aerodynamics of the structure. The French start-up is once again demonstrating its ability to meet the challenges of the aviation of the future. VoltAero will also present its new Cassio 1 hybrid-electric demonstrator at the France Air Expo this month in Lyon.
For GE Aviation, composite materials play an essential role in the performance of its engines. In fact, to lighten the engines and increase their propulsion, the GE90 turbojet engines and the company’s latest, the GE9X, have carbon fiber-filled epoxy resin blades epoxy resin blades filled with carbon fiber. This represents a major weight saving when you consider that the engine is one of the heaviest parts of the aircraft.
These regular innovations in the aeronautics sector have pushed the shipping industry to also turn to composite materials to improve the durability of ships.
Maritime sector: Composite, a solution for sustainable ships
Advanced composite materials, such as carbon fiber-reinforced polymers, are becoming popular in the maritime industry, where the majority of ships are still built of heavy steel. For example, as part of the RAMSSES project, which promotes the deployment of innovative materials in the maritime industry, Dutch shipbuilding group Damen has unveiled a composite ship hull section that could allow ships to be 40% lighter than their steel counterparts.
According to the project’s promoters, this lightening would allow a 25% reduction in fuel consumption and a similar reduction in polluting emissions.
The use of composite materials for large ships has important consequences on the overall design. A lighter ship uses less fuel and therefore produces fewer emissions. Engines may also be smaller, leaving more space for additional systems.
Although composite materials have many advantages, a number of obstacles remain to be overcome to enable them to fully meet the ecological challenges of the aeronautical and maritime sectors. In particular, the issue of recycling these heterogeneous materials with complex structures.
Better recycling of composite materials?
While the recycling of composites from aluminum, titanium and fiberglass fuselage is quite simple to achieve by heat treatment, carbon fiber composites (CFRP), mostly used in aeronautics, are materials whose recycling is particularly problematic. Today, the majority of CFRP waste is buried or incinerated, contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
It is in this perspective that the French start-up Xcrusher proposes to separate carbon fibers from their polymer matrix using pulsed power technology. This process would allow to recover 90% of the mechanical properties of the recycled fibers, allowing the industrialists to reuse them.
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