Operating an aircraft accounts for 80 percent of the machine’s lifetime environmental footprint, according to a newly released Dassault study.
Manufacturing and dismantling account for the remaining 20 percent, and Europe’s Clean Sky research initiative includes an E80 million ($104 million) project called EcoDesign-Airframe, co-led by Dassault, aimed at greening aircraft cradles and graves.
In parallel with the research effort, Dassault has begun making its production process less polluting. It is using less hexavalent chromium, which is carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic. In addition, Dassault is also eliminating cadmium and lead from its production processes. Chemical machining is being replaced with mechanical machining.
“[The environmental impact of] carrying parts and subassemblies by road from one production site to another is not negligible,” noted Jerome Lery, project leader for EcoDesign-Airframe, so the EcoDesign-Airframe project aims to minimize road transport of components that are at intermediate manufacturing stages.
To save energy, Dassault and its research partners are also looking for ways to cure composite materials without an autoclave and are considering using more thermoplastics in place of thermosets.
There has been a lot of talk about the benefits of composites over a life cycle, in that they are lighter, but metal suppliers point out that aluminum is more widely recyclable than composites are.
Although the company plans to use composites in more primary structures, aluminum will continue to play a role. New aluminum-lithium alloys are about 5 percent lighter than conventional ones.
To improve the metal buy-to-fly ratio (that is, to reduce scrap), Dassault favors adding material over removing it, or using welding or laser sintering rather than machining. When metal chips have to be produced, they can be compacted to reduce the number of trucks required to collect them. Dassault is already using this technique at its Seclin factory.
In the cabin, so-called bio-composites could make furniture closer to nature. Bio-fibers are already in use in the automotive industry. They come from hemp, flax or nettle.
Dassault research to improve dismantling at the end of the aircraft’s life is more embryonic since few Falcons have been withdrawn from service. Nevertheless, EcoDesign-Airframe’s mission centers on sorting materials. In the works is a portable device to identify the various aluminum alloys. Dassault also has contracted Tarmac Aerosave, a company based in Tarbes, France, to dismantle the first Falcon 900 airframe with an eye toward greening such operations. Work started in June and the results were expected at the end of the summer.
EcoDesign-Airframe aims to have technologies ready for demonstration by 2015, for the possible launch of a program in 2018-2020 and deliveries in 2025, Lery said.