Monday, January 30

Someone has devised an alternative to oil so that planes pollute less: cooking oil

Before saying goodbye definitively, the giant of the air wants to make its contribution in favor of the sustainability of commercial aviation, although we still have a long way to go to reach that point of balance. An Airbus A380, made its first flight with a fuel derived mainly from cooking oil used and other residual fats.

A test unit of the world’s largest aircraft, dubbed MSN 1, took off from the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, on Friday, March 25. It made a flight of approximately three hours, operating one of its original Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines with sustainable fuel, and landed on the same runway without any problems.

A flight with sustainable fuel

Airbus explains that for this flight, and another that took place the following day, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Currently, there are different types of SAF, but all aim, to a greater or lesser extent, to be less harmful to the environment than traditional fossil fuels.

The European aircraft manufacturer’s SAF supplier is TotalEnergies, which manufactures in Normandy fuel based on hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA), free of aromatics and sulfur. In other words, oil like the one we use in our kitchens, used, and other residual fats that, if not for this purpose, would have ended up in the garbage.

As mentioned above, the Airbus A380 in the test used its original engines. This has been possible thanks to the fact that this type of fuel is designed to work with the turbofan systems of current aircraft, although its performance and safety are being verified with various tests.

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Previously, Airbus tested two of its other models with SAF. In March 2021 it did so with an A350 and in October 2021 with an A319neo. The firm seeks to achieve certification to be able to use 100% sustainable fuel in its planes by the end of this decade and the first zero-emission plane for the market in 2035.

The plane, the most polluting means of transport

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), a plane with 88 passengers emits an average of 285 grams of CO2 per passenger and kilometer. Under the same parameters, this is much more than the 14 grams of CO2 emitted by a train with 156 passengers. Against this background, the aim is to reduce the environmental impact produced by commercial aviation, with some solutions more viable than others.

Electric aircraft, despite Roll-Royce’s Spirit of Innovation reaching breakneck speeds and other projects appearing promising, are still not an option to meet the needs of commercial aviation in the short term. Ideas like traveling through the air using solar power, as the Solar Impulse II does, are also left out of this equation.

So… what alternatives do we have to achieve carbon neutrality in this industry? This is precisely where aircraft with sustainable fuels come into play. The SAFs currently can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 60%. And the air transport industry has committed to the ICAO to invest in the development of these alternatives to improve it.

However, the industry can also surprise with drastic and counterproductive maneuvers for the environment. It is enough to remember what happened during much of the pandemic, where many airlines flew empty planes, wasting fuel and polluting, so as not to lose their seats at airports.

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