Blue Skies Turn Green

10 08 2007

Urban Core International BlogMost of us have been on at least one flight in our lives, boarding a massive jumbo jet that burns thousands of gallons of fuel to soar through the sky. What you might not know, is how quickly those jets, the companies who build them, and the companies who fly them, are changing industry standards to become more and more sustainable.
Remarkable developments from Boeing began with the design of the 787 Dreamliner, a jet whose creation was based onBoeing 787 Dreamliner the principles of efficiency, sustainability, and for sheer economics. The Dreamliner makes use of new technologies in carbon composites, meaning, its body is comprised of almost 50% carbon fiber (the same materials they use to make the Corvette). Why the change in material? It results in using 20% less fuel per mile than a similar plane!

Super Jumbo A380 Airbus is also looking towards efficiency but thinking in different areas. Their newest plane, the Super Jumbo A380 (and yes, it’s big enough to deserve the name “super jumbo”) carries up to 853 passengers. It does this by eliminating class configurations, and making the entire plane economy class. The typical 3-class configuration would yield 555 seats, making quite a difference in the amount of passengers that travel on a gallon of fuel. Eliminating class configurations helps efficiency without even thinking about the way the plane is built, the engine used, or the amount of gas consumed.

Both companies are looking to a new type of engine to aid them in the transition to greener skies. The Open Rotor engine isgebe.jpg a tail-mounted engine that combines the speed of a normal jet engine with the efficiency of a turbo propeller engine. This does make the flight a little bit slower, but it makes it a lot more efficient. The propellers on these new engines are not housed inside casing, which is why they must be mounted on the tail. Interestingly enough, this produces an added side effect of making the plane more aerodynamic. It turns out that wing-mounted engines interfere with lift surfaces on the plane, meaning you need more energy and hence more fuel to get the plane off the ground. Engineers look to combat this by blending the wings and the body of a plane, a design first adopted by the military in creating the B-52 bomber, which can travel remarkable distances without refueling because of the greater amount of lift surfaces. Having the tail-mounted engines helps increase these lift surfaces, meaning commercial planes will also be able to go further without refueling.

What about the engine makers themselves? A little research shows that GE’s eco-imagination is constantly at work. The new GE90-115B engines ecomagination.jpgare remarkably efficient, so much so that a fleet of 16 twin engine aircrafts powered by these new engines emits 141,000 fewer tons of greenhouse gases than the traditional four engine configuration. Those amount of greenhouse gases equals the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by 35,000 acres of forest. To try visualizing just how large of an impact that is, it’s about twice the size of Manhattan Island!

As jet makers lean towards efficiency, the airlines themselves are hopping on board. American Airlines enacted an environmental fuel savingAA Logo program to shut off one engine when the plane is taxiing to an airport gate, or when removing heavy food service galleys from the plane. One engine may not sound like much, but when spread across the fleet of a company as large as AA, it leads to anywhere between 60 – 70 million gallons of fuel a year saved!

Richard BransonRichard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airlines is committed to sustainability in the air and on the ground. Not only was Virgin among the first to purchase the new Boeing Dreamliner, but they also power all of their key office sites through renewable energy.

It’s not only industry giants hopping on board. A smaller company (though by no means small) called EasyJet is reducing theirEcoJet carbon emissions in the air and on the ground as well. While Virgin purchases alternative energy credits, EasyJet is buying carbon credits through UN certified providers to offset the emissions they create from the operations of their planes. In fact, the amount of carbon credits purchased is directly related to the number of flights, distance traveled, and fuel burned by the company. They are also in the process of designing the EcoJet, based on the principles of the Boeing Dreamliner, which they believe will cut carbon dioxide emissions a whopping 50% by the year 2015. This is truly remarkable.

Truly, some innovative ideas and new technologies are coming to light in the airline industry. From the fiberglass body of the Boeing Dreamliner to the efforts of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to alternative energy, the skies are forever changing, and for the better. If there’s one thing that’s clear, its that eco-imagination is constantly hard at work!

Co-Authors: Josef Newman + Aaron Newman, Urban Core International 

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2 responses

10 08 2007
bigsteve

You guys are terrific….I love reading your articles …..keep up the great work which is so needed…

10 08 2007
daniele

ok i will remember all of these good things when i board my next plane which is quite soon ! i will support all the airlines making an effort to go as green as they can. we all can make a difference. one green step at a time. “ecomama”

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