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☁️ "How to Decarbonise Aviation?"

Redefining Energy

Photo by Ross Parmly / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Hosts: Gerard Reid & Laurent Segalen
Guest: Toby McCann | Deputy Director | Thales
Category: ☁️ Carbon Reduction

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:34] “We're in a very exciting time in aviation at the moment. We are changing to an entirely new era of electrification. And we haven't seen this amount of technical disruption since the advent of the jet age. So this present is a huge opportunity to really decarbonize things. [… ] Our journey to sustainable aviation is not going to work unless the economics makes sense. And for aviation, that is the cost per passenger mile. It's how much it's gonna cost for each person to travel. So we're going to need customer demand, people are going to want to fly in it. So it's got to be safe. It's got to be efficient, and we've got to have cheap energy. If those things don't add up, then the business case isn't going to close. So we've got electrification, we've got hydrogen, we've got drop in liquid fuels, biofuels and e-fuels, which are synthetic fuels made from green energy.”

[3:48] “Currently, there is a battery electric plane certified. [….] It's a very, very light trainer […] and it's really got sort of a car battery size energy source. And it flies for about an hour with two people in it with a bit of reserve. […] There's slightly bigger ones coming around the corner […] [for] maybe four people pushing an hour, maybe two hours, but really, we're not quite there yet with the battery technology for anything beyond that. We really need to at least double, triple the specific energy of batteries. But I'm pretty optimistic about it because the battery technology is evolving really, really fast.”

[4:38] “Aviation, whilst it needs […] a different type of batteries, it can really leverage off the car market which is now operating at huge scale. It's got huge amounts of funding putting into this for innovation. That really gives the aircraft a head start  when it comes to batteries. Current batteries have about 72 times less energy than the equivalent jet fuel, just to put that in scale. But I think we should be able to have that in the next few years and that should start bringing in small sub regional aircraft, start making them viable.”

[5:10] “There's a number of other problems with batteries […] in that they're really heavy and they’re solid. So you can't use a conventional sort of aircraft design where you keep the fuel in the wings. The batteries have got to go somewhere else, because they don't carry so much energy. The more you need, the heavier the aircraft is, and then the more energy you need to to fly it. So you get stuck in a bit of a trap, there really. There's a lot of things we can do in order to close that range gap. And we have the technology now to design the aircraft around the battery and around the motor. And that gives us some huge advantages in aerodynamics, and where you can position the motors.”

[5:57] “The more radically different the design is, the harder it is to certify it. So initially, the quickest route to market will be putting a battery in a motor into an already certified airframe. And we've seen that with [….] the sea planes over in Canada, so that they were already getting those flying, it cuts down the amount of certification required. But then you do start to reach the limits of battery capacity quickly, and you need to make it a lot more efficient by designing the airframe around the battery.”

[7:39] “The eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) market is just growing exponentially. […] Last time I checked the […] list online of every single eVTOL startup, there [were] over 500 globally, producing some kind of eVTOL craft. And out of all those, I would think that's probably only going to be a handful, which are successful in the end that sort of first to market. […] But if we relate this back to sustainable aviation, whilst it's exciting, […] is it really solving the sustainable aviation problem? I don't think it is. Because whilst in themselves, they may be sustainable, but they're effectively replacing what will be electrified ground transport. So I don't think they do much for the overall goal of getting to net zero for aviation, although they are advancing a lot of the technology very quickly, and that will have spin-off benefits into larger aircraft.”

[12:03] “My rule of thumb is [to] electrify everything with battery power first. And only when you run out of battery power, then you're going to start looking at the other fuel options, because there's going to be an exponential difference in cost. So for eVTOL aircraft, the batteries should be able to cover it. But when it comes to training aircraft, sub regional aircrafts, short 500 mile distances, I'm fairly confident that the batteries will start to reach that in the next five to 10 years. Where in the meantime, as we need to do something right now, we can have batteries plus a hybrid solution. So batteries, complemented by a small gas turbine engine running on sustainable fuel that gives us the range. And then beyond that, when we're talking about transatlantic, the only options really are some kind of drop in fuel. And what I mean by dropp in fuel is a fuel we can replace the current kerosene with, which is identical in all respects, but sustainable. So we don't need to change the planes or the engines, because most of the current designs that are out there now would be the ones still flying around in 20-30 years time. So that's really the only solution for the long call at the time being.”

[15.42] “If we zoom out from the plane, then we need to think about the supply side. For [hydrogen powered aircrafts] to work, you're going to need a supply of hydrogen at every airport. And not only that, at every airport, the plane might divert to as well. You won't be able to sell a plane that can only fly to four or five major airports. So there's got to be a fairly ubiquitous supplies situation. And then hydrogen is currently a fossil fuel problem. It's not a solution, as it all made, what 98% of it at least is made with fossil fuels. So how do we get the quantities of green hydrogen needed to the airfields? How much is that going to cost? It's a huge, huge problem. And it's not one the aviation industry has any control over. So we're making huge investments in hydrogen technology and development. But from a business case point of view, we don't have any control over the biggest risk, which is actually the supply of green hydrogen.

[24:18] “There'll be a two tier system, because those aircraft that can fully electrify or at least go hybrid, the ticket price is going to be driven right down, because an electric plane is going to compete directly with the train fare. Then you've got the aircraft which can't use batteries, and they're going to be five times more expensive. So you're gonna have this huge differential cost. I think that's going to completely change the way the aircraft operate in terms of the routes. What I would like to see is more distributed aviation systems, so flying point to point from small regional airfields, so you're getting exactly where you want to go, because it's going to be a lot more economical to do so. […] And so you're using aircraft in a completely different way instead of the traditional hub and spoke way, and that will really stimulate a more regional aircraft market. Globally, just under half of all flights were for just less than 500 miles. So I think that there's a huge potential there.”

[26:17] “I think we're opening up a completely different way of traveling across different routes. There's a lot of exciting technology on the horizon. My message would be that aviation whilst they can bring this new technology to market, it can't deliver this on its own. It takes the whole energy network to move to sustainable sources to do this together. Because every single solution that aviation has entirely depends on a cheap supply of green electricity […] and it's going to take an exponential increase in renewable power to achieve this, and decarbonize other land transport at the same time as we go to aviation. So we really need everybody to move forward together on this rather than aviation trying to go it alone.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 29 min | 🗓️ 08/15/2021
✅ Time saved: 27 min