Business aviation targets CO2 emissions

NBAA Convention News » 2008
October 1, 2008, 10:30 AM

“It’s not that easy being green,” sang Kermit the Frog in the first season of Sesame Street in 1970. Nearly four decades later, “being green” means something entirely different, but it still isn’t easy.

Today, being “green” means, in the most general sense, being environmentally aware and doing something positive about it. But it also means that aviation is the target of choice for many seeking to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

These gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) produced by jet engines, are the enemy and responsible, say environmental activists and many scientists, for global warming. This despite evidence that aviation represents less than 3 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and business aviation only a tiny percentage of that number.

Nevertheless, warranted or not, being in a global spotlight and publicly labeled an environmental pariah by activist groups and government agencies is not a particularly desirable public image. So business aviation is going green.

One of the most popular green programs emerged from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in December last year. More to the point, it followed a European Union recommendation that specifically proposed the inclusion of aviation in a new international agreement on global warming.

But even before the negotiations began, the aviation industry had recognized the need to address the issue. “If we aren’t proactive [about] stepping up to the plate and addressing issues such as noise and emissions, society will be proactive for us,” said a board member of the Lindbergh Foundation, which “supports great innovations that foster the environment to keep the planet in balance.”

But there are shades of green, and no less important, green is not always what it appears to be. And such emotionally charged issues as global warming also give birth to some proposals that are at best poorly thought out, and in some cases little more than scams designed to separate the unwary from their money.

The environmental group WWF– formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund–made headlines late last year when it claimed that 20 percent of the 94 million carbon credits sold under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) are of little or no use to consumers who want to offset or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it warned that an influx of credits into the market could actually lead to an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

If so, how much more questionable are the voluntary offset credit schemes suddenly finding favor in the aviation community? Among the questions being asked by aviation industry trade groups are: how is the effectiveness of these programs verified and are consumers’ monetary contributions really being used to combat emissions in the atmosphere? “Just how credible, legitimate and honest are these offset providers?” asked James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

Anja Kollmuss, an associate scientist with the Stockholm Environmental Institute (an international research institute specializing in sustainable development and environment issues) was blunt in providing an answer: “Carbon offsets will not save the world from climate change,” said Kollmuss. “Carbon offsets are, at best, a game. You are allowed to emit and someone else instead reduces.”

The best course of action, according to Clean Air-Cool Planet, a non-profit organization that promotes solutions to global warming, is to monitor individual energy use and emissions. And there is a growing movement among aviation companies to do just that.

One such company is Jet Source at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Calif. Atop two of its hangars are a series of photovoltaic panel modules generating some 442,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The solar-powered system provides enough electricity to power the equivalent of 40 homes per year and saves the 120,000-sq-ft FBO approximately $62,000 a year.

According to Jet Source information systems manager Brad Brown, the photovoltaic system is only part of the FBO’s efforts aimed at becoming more environmentally friendly. Other measures include a centralized heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; additional insulation; a switch to compact fluorescent lighting; and use of motion sensors that automatically turn off the lights in any room that is out of use for more than 10 minutes.

LEED Standards
Avjet Corp., a Burbank, Calif.-based charter operator is nearing completion of what it claims is the first Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified green hangar in the U.S. The 63,653-sq-ft facility will include 12,515 sq ft of office space. Featured are such green elements as photovoltaic power, recycled-content building materials and other resource-efficient systems, including a water-mist, chemical-free fire suppression system in the hangar.

Signature Flight Support’s new FBO at Boston Logan International Airport was designed green from the ground up, with special window glazing and sun shades and recycled building materials. Even the wood products used were certified as not from ecologically fragile areas of the world. Like Avjet’s new facility, the Signature facility meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards.

Nor are FBOs the only aviation companies going green. Most of the OEMs, from Dassault Falcon in France, to Embraer in Brazil, to Bombardier in Canada, to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg, Germany, all have in-house programs for recycling, minimizing GHG emissions and fostering a culture of environmental responsibility.

Dassault Falcon, in response to customer concerns, has been studying ways to make future aircraft greener. Among them is the integration of higher-bypass-ratio engines, such as Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW308C. They are promoted as being quieter and having a lower specific fuel consumption. The larger engine diameter created its own challenge, to which Dassault designers suggested two solutions. In one, the engine nacelles were blended with the aft fuselage to reduce drag. In the other, a modified U-shaped tail accomplished the same purpose.

Green Machines    
Perhaps the greatest technological advances in the greening of business aviation have been by engine manufacturers. Unlike automobile manufacturers, for whom big, gas-guzzling engines were not a negative, jet engine manufacturers have been searching for lighter and more efficient engines ever since the Wright Brothers’ custom-built, 12-horsepower, 170-pound piston beast took the brothers aloft at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

With jet fuel in many parts of the U.S. in the $6-plus range, there remains plenty of incentive to make engines still more efficient. And with public pressure and the threat of more government regulations as motivation, engine manufacturers continue to reduce the GHG emissions, as well as noise.

Honeywell is hard at work on what it calls “rich/quench/lean” technology, which runs rich fuel/air ratios in the primary zone of the combustor. The rapid introduction of cooling air along the combustor axial length leans out the mixture before it enters the turbine. The result is “significantly” reduced NOx emissions as well as lower CO2, unburned hydrocarbons and smoke particulate emissions.

Pratt & Whitney Canada continues to refine its geared turbofan design and expects to spend about $1.5 billion over the next five years on research and development. The company has spent at least the last four years refining the concept, in particular with regard to a lighter and more compact gearbox. The current model in the demonstrator engine is only 14-inches in diameter. According to the company, its geared turbofan will reduce NOx emissions and cut CO2 emissions by 1,500 tons a year per airplane. At the same time, it is expected to be 50 percent quieter and provide a 12- to 15-percent reduction in fuel burn.

The new Rolls-Royce BR725 will power Gulfstream’s G650 and is described by the company as “the most advanced member of the BR700 engine series.” It is expected to emit 21 percent less NOx, show a 4-percent specific fuel consumption improvement, and be four decibels quieter than the BR710. Rolls-Royce attributes the improvements in part to a 50-inch diameter fan assembly made up of 24 “swept” titanium blades.

On the large-engine side, General Electric’s GEnx-2B is expected to be the turbofan of choice for buyers of an executive version of Boeing’s 747-8. It is expected to offer 15-percent better fuel efficiency, which will cut CO2 emissions by the same percentage. The company also claims it will be the quietest engine GE has ever produced.

Partners General Electric and Snecma are at work on open-rotor turbofan engine designs with a variety of options, including a contra-rotating pusher, a tractor configuration and both direct and geared drives. General Electric will produce a geared, contra-rotating solution, while Snecma will pursue direct-drive versions. The work by the partners is expected to yield a fuel-burn improvement of 30 percent over comparable enclosed turbofan designs.

As if any additional motivation other than customer demand was needed, the industry as a whole is keeping an eye on various governmental agencies worldwide, all of whom are, in turn, sensitive to public-pressure and environmental activist groups. The European Union in particular has been adamant that aviation be included in any new emissions standards.Taking a proactive stance, the European Business Aviation Association has offered to form a pool of business jet operators as an alternative means of compliance with the EU’s emission trading scheme (ETS). It is an effort to keep the administrative burden acceptable to small companies. On the good-news side, a European Commission representative recently provided details about how the ETS will affect aviation in three or four years and hinted at possible exemptions for business aviation.

To return to Kermit’s lament on the difficulties of being green, the song also strikes what is perhaps the right environmental note as our froggy hero concludes, “I am green, and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful, and I think it’s what I want to be.”

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