Can Aviation Help the Environment?

by Tyler Hoyle

LeapTech, is NASA’s latest project geared towards testing a different approach to powering flight. It has the potential to pave the way for low-carbon aviation. Rather than using a fossil fuel burning engine, LeapTech is a truck-plane hybrid, with 18 electric motors along its leading edge, each containing a small propeller. The small propellers are used to test the distributed propulsion in order to analyze if it has the potential to lead to the creation of energy efficient aircraft designs that would ultimately produce less pollution.

Researchers study distributed propulsion in order to develop new technologies, which can alter aircraft designs and decrease aircraft pollution. For example, future planes may have lighter wings that are powered by batteries or hybrid gas-electric systems. This might make it easier for wings to quickly change shape and better handle the challenges from turbulent air. Another design might include a plane that blends both the elements of the conventional wings- and the fuselage design, which could lower emissions.

Commercial aviation is responsible for an estimated 2 percent of the global total of carbon dioxide emitted yearly by human activity. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the industry is expected to double to an estimated 40,000 airlines in less than two decades. As the industry continues to grow, what does this mean for the future of climate change? Well, aviation may eventually be accountable for more than one-fifth of the global total.

There must be new technologies and approaches incorporated to transform aircraft designs and make aviation as carbon-free as possible, if we wish to achieve drastic emissions reductions. The potential benefits of LeapTech are: decreased reliance on fossil fuels, improved aircraft performance and ride quality, and a significant aircraft noise reduction.

Fountain, Henry. Rethinking the Airplane, for Climate’s Sake. January 11, 2016.


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