We Have Green Cars- What About the Planes?

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We now have eco-friendly cars; hybrids, electrics and the like.  So why can’t we use these planet-friendly energies for other forms of transport- such as airliners?   I can put up with poor in-flight food, old films and expensive drinks, but it’s the extra taxes that keep being added on to the cost of tickets because everytime we go abroad we are paying for the airline companies polluting big-time.

Martin Bradley, a technical fellow with Boeing, is leading a NASA-funded study to see the viability of planes being fuelled by liquified natural gas or electricity. Such planes might also be constructed with lighter materials, sport high-span truss-based wings, and be routed with improved air-traffic control systems. Mr Bradley commented:

“We’re not really betting on any one of those [technologies] in particular, but we are identifying some future possibilities and then trying to make sure that the technology is developed far enough along so that they can be ready if they make sense at the time,”

Think of an energy-efficient commercial jet powered by a hybrid-electric engine similar to those in cars such as the  Smart car, the Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt, or Nissan Leaf.  So the plane would plug in at the airport to recharge batteries, for example, in the same way electric/hybrid car owners recharge in their garages.  But the catch is that at the moment, such is the thrust needed to get even a lighter built airplane off the ground, conventional fuel would be needed for take-off.  Electricity would power the engines, at least in part, on level flight and coming in to land.

Electric Batteries are the biggest headache. They are heavy compared to conventional fuel and unless some new breakthrough occurs will likely will be so for the foreseeable future. Unless you’re only carrying only one passenger with no luggage,  there seems to be no way round this.

“There is a penalty for carrying heavy batteries,” Bradley said. “But if you have a really efficient airplane, that penalty is reduced. So, in the study, we make the propulsion system more efficient, we make the aerodynamics more efficient, we make the airplane lighter.”

This engineering work, in turn, could translate to a plane that requires 50 percent less energy to fly than today’s commercial jets. And that means the battery only needs to be about half as big. That means we could be on the way to a partially green plane. Maybe a sort of bluish-avocado plane?

A similarly designed plane could also be powered by liquefied natural gas, Bradley and his colleagues have found in the course of the SUGAR study, (which stands for Subsonic Ultra-Green Aircraft Research).

Challenges for liquefied natural gas are primarily the fuel tanks on the airplane and re-fueling infrastructure at the airport, Bradley noted. “Once you inject it into a jet engine, it actually burns really well,” he said. But there may be issues of storage at airports, and it’s not like conventional aviation fuel where you bang in the nozzle and shoot the fuel into the wings.

The advantages to using liquefied natural gas include what may be low cost due to abundance and its lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional jet fuel. Whether or when any of these technologies are pursued in commercial jets in the future depends on the flight communities attitude to the future:  Are we going to go serious on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, or just shrug and say, fossil fuels are cheap,  still around, and there to be used.

I guess this all adds up to something that’s not going to happen overnight. The new technology is not being developed to the point where it can be introduced, but to a point where you can say IF you want to go down this route, we have seen the feasibility of it.  That’s better than doing nothing!

Here’s a video telling you more: Future of Planes

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5 thoughts on “We Have Green Cars- What About the Planes?

  1. i always aim for eco friendly stuffs because i want to help mother earth.;

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  2. Hi Leona,Thanks for linking to the orgniial speech.What a wonderful and frank paragraph about the use of English and Mandarin in Hong Kong (see enclosed).In Calgary, some Canadian parents are sending their little ones to Chinese immersion as oppose to French immersion school. So it is particularly sad to see a generation of HK kids’ language skills (both English and Mandarin) being worst because of some failed grant educational policy experiments initiated by the former HK government under Tung.Regards,Kempton****P.S. An excerpt from the CG’s speech,”I do not mean, of course, that the elite speak [English] less well, that is not so. And there are still scholarly people, like Sir TL Yang, whose command of my language is considerably better than my own. But on the streets, in shops, taxis and more generally, English is fading fast. Confronted with incomprehension over the last few years, I have sometimes tried Mandarin, but quite often that does not work any better. Now while Cantonese is a wonderful and famously expressive language, it won’t do for a city that wants to be international, Asia’s World City, indeed. Foreigners are increasingly prepared to learn Mandarin, and doing so in large numbers: but Cantonese simply doesn’t have the pull.”

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  3. 係London既underground, 你會見到既係musical, ballet, gerally, museum exihibition 既廣告為主, 而唔係瘦身廣告. 係呢度你想去gallery, 就有Tate Modern, Tate Britain, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery…Museum 就更加多. 重有其他既文化/藝術節目. 香港呢方面而家依然有所不及, 但近年已經漸漸有改善. 但香港只係華洋雜處呢樣野, 已經係London/NYC 所冇既獨特優勢 (可惜我地有北京/上海呢兩個勁敵). 政府可以係hardware上有support, 但更重要的, 係要香港人自己重視同珍惜培育文化藝術既土壞, 否則就算播幾多種子, 結果都係一樣…

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  4. The Sphere 1 was originally a build ysoeurlf machine but later pre-assembled. It featured a pretty low 4KB of RAM that would be no good for your average Call of Duty game, but it did the job. Possibly the best bit of trivia surrounding the Sphere 1 is that it was the first ever computer to use the command Control-Alt-Delete, apparently made famous by Bill Gates.

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  5. 01 Jan 24, 2011 6:36 pm jean richardson hello l am Bradleys grand motehr and live in england l just wanted to say the photos you took of Bradley for his holy communion are fantastic we are so proud of him thank you for capturing the lovely natural boy we love so much he is a true starwith best wishesjean richardson

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