Electrification and Sustainability

Technology is Available That Could Lower Aircraft Emissions Today, Not Ten Years from Now

By Kelsey Reichmann | September 2, 2021
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Tamarak Aerospace claims its active winglets can increase efficiency by 33 percent. (Tamarak)

Airlines and aircraft makers have all committed to zero emissions pledges that pump funding and research into cleaner technologies like electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels. The problem is that none of these solutions can be implemented on a wide scale today. 

While this means that some of the emission reduction estimates tied to these technologies are still decades away, there are technologies available right now that can contribute to emissions reductions. 

“For an airline, who’s maybe made carbon neutrality goals or objectives, made those public announcements, this is an important element of getting there because this is available relatively short order, we’re not waiting for SAF to be available, we’re not waiting for hybrid electric technologies, it’s available, really, in short order to help meet those objectives,” Jacob Klinginsmith, president of Tamarack Aerospace Group, told Aviation Today.

Tamarack makes what it calls “active” winglets—opposed to passive or traditional winglets.  Klinginsmith said this technology can be used today to provide added efficiency to aircraft and reduce emissions and it can be used in conjunction with future clean energy technology. 

Tamarack’s active winglets are different than traditional winglets because they include an extension and winglet providing greater wingspan increase. To be able to add the extension and winglet to the wing, Tamarack uses a load alleviation system that reinforces the wing. Klinginsmith said this system can provide efficiency improvements up to 33 percent versus about 5 percent with passive winglets. 

Tamarak’s winglets aim to enable airplanes to fly with the efficiency of a glider. (Tamarak)

“Companies have looked at doing struts on the wings and things like that to make the wings longer and more slender, but we’re doing it with this load alleviation system, which allows us to kind of get all the benefits of doing a longer thinner wing, without some of those structural penalties that typically come with it,” Klinginsmith said. “Even traditional winglet modifications typically require structural reinforcements for the wing, which takes time and it cost money and then you lose some useful load at the end of the day. With our technology, you know, we kind of get to have the aerodynamic performance without those structural penalties, in fact, we increase the payload in the ones that we have out right now. Our product right now is increasing the payload for operators.” 

The winglet technology essentially provides the plane with the characteristics of a glider, Klinginsmith said. 

“At a high level, the secret to what we’re doing is we’re turning the airplane into something that performs closer to how a glider would, right,” Klinginsmith said. “We all can understand that a glider is very efficient, it has to have low drag to stay aloft. The scientific term is aspect ratio, which is just basically how long and thin the wings are because of the less induced drag. And so we’re modifying the aircraft wing to make it more long and slender, which has a less induced drag and that’s what everybody’s looking for now in terms of efficiency.” 

Changes to the aircraft are not the only way to reduce emissions. On the ground at airports, some companies like Aircraft Towing System World Wide (ATS) are creating technology to reduce fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and noise generation. ATS has a system to taxi aircraft from the runway to the gates and back without using the aircraft’s engines. The system uses an underground channel to tow aircraft from one location to the other. 

The ATS system will allow aircraft to taxi without using fuel. (ATS)

“After landing an aircraft, the pilot will taxi to the appropriate taxiway and drive the aircraft nose wheel onto the ATS ‘tow dolly’ where it is secured in place. Pilots can then shut off the aircraft’s main engines,” ATS Vice President/CEO Vince Howie said in a January statement on the company’s website. 

ATS claims that the fuel traditionally used to taxi aircraft can all be saved by using its system. For example, at Heathrow airport, the company estimates that over 15 million liters of fuel can be saved. 

“The average taxi time at Heathrow is 22 minutes and the average fuel consumption during taxi is 9 gallons or 35 Liters (L) per minute of taxi time,” a representative for ATS told Aviation Today. “There were over 475,000 movements or taxis in 2019. So, 22 minutes x 35 liters x 475,000 movements = 15,995,000 liters of fuel burned during taxi or saved if ATS were installed. If fuel was 1.70 euros per liter that is 27,191,500 euros in savings per year at Heathrow.” 

A prototype of the ATS system is being installed at the Ardmore Industrial Airpark in Ardmore, Oklahoma. (ATS)

The company claims that the fuel savings presented in this example could also be used to generate carbon credits. 

“Taking the fuel savings example one step further, depending on the engines installed on commercial aircraft, the emission output averages 265 kilograms of CO2 per taxi,” the representative for ATS said. “Since emission credits are presently selling for approximately $7.60 per ton in carbon credit auctions in the U.S., this equates to .0055 Euros per liter of carbon credit for fuel burned during taxi. 35 Liters of fuel per minute of taxi x 22 minutes = 770 Liters of carbon x .021 Euros carbon credit per liter = 4.24 Euros per taxi x 475,000 movements. Based on this formula the airport should be able to generate 2M Euros per year in potential carbon credit revenue when sold on carbon credit markets.” 

ATS is currently installing a prototype of this system at the Ardmore Industrial Airpark in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Air traffic management (ATM) modernization has been cited by companies like Boeing and Airbus as a way to make operations more efficient. The European Commission is also working on a new framework for more efficient airway management, the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) project

“Modernising Europe’s air traffic management (ATM) is central to meeting our Green Deal objectives and ensuring the long-term resilience of the aviation sector,” European Union Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said in a statement on the EU’s website. “By speeding up the implementation of the innovative technological solutions, the Common Project One (CP1) will ensure more direct, and therefore, more fuel-efficient flight paths, and allow modern aircraft to fully exploit the benefits of greener and quieter technologies.” 

The SESAR project aims to develop and deploy technology to increase ATM performance and build Europe’s intelligent air transport system. One of the aspects it is addressing is inefficiencies in air traffic management. Optimizing these inefficiencies will help save fuel. A 2016 report from the International Civil Aviation Organization said this could result in a 10 percent reduction of CO2 emissions per flight. Airbus has claimed similar statistics. 

“Direct routings can result in approximately 10 percent less fuel consumption in aircraft, as well as significantly reduced CO2 and noise emissions,” Airbus’ website states. “This is why we develop modern air traffic management systems in collaboration with our subsidiary Airbus NavBlue and work closely with a range of partners to further optimise in-flight operational efficiency.” 

While some of these solutions aren’t at the forefront of much of the discussion on sustainability solutions like electric aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels, they could provide a pathway for airlines and operators to meet interim sustainability goals because they are available now. 

“A lot of airlines and operators are looking at sustainability probably closer than they’ve ever looked and with more intent, than they’ve ever had to make changes and so there’s a huge opportunity there with our technology,” Klinginsmith said.

However, these solutions do not have to replace future technologies but instead can be used together once they are developed. 

 “Our technology works well with those other technologies, whether we’re talking about upgraded engines, SAF, reducing the drag on the airframe, and that is sort of synergistic with some of these other modifications that, frankly, are a ways out,” Klinginsmith said. “Especially SAF that has a lot of attention right now, we’re looking forward to that, we’re looking forward to saving a lot of people gallons of SAF, but that’s a ways out and our technologies are available right now.” 

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