Boeing, NASA, and United Airlines Collaborate to Test Benefits of Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Making a significant move towards bolstering sustainability in aviation, Boeing, in partnership with NASA and United Airlines, has announced in-flight testing to assess the impact of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on contrails and non-carbon emissions. This initiative also aims to determine the potential of SAF in reducing the fuel's life cycle climate impact.
Boeing's ecoDemonstrator Explorer, a 737-10 designated for United Airlines, will be utilized for these tests. The aircraft will be equipped with tanks containing 100% SAF and conventional jet fuel, alternating during the testing phase. In a unique setup, NASA's DC-8 Airborne Science Lab will trail the commercial jet, measuring the emissions from each fuel type and the formation of contrail ice particles. Additionally, NASA satellites will capture imagery of the contrail formations, providing comprehensive data for the study.
The primary objective of this research is to gain insights into how advanced fuels, engine combustor designs, and other technological advancements can mitigate atmospheric warming. A key area of focus will be the examination of contrails, which are the condensation trails formed when aircraft fly through cold, humid air. Preliminary research has indicated that certain contrails may contribute to trapping heat in the atmosphere.
World Energy will supply the SAF for these tests from its facility in Paramount, California. The project is receiving support from various entities:
- The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds the initiative through the ASCENT Center of Excellence.
- GE Aerospace is contributing technical expertise and project funding.
- The German Aerospace Center (DLR) provides expert insights and instrumentation.
This initiative continues the multi-year collaboration between Boeing and NASA, focusing on the potential of SAF to reduce emissions and offer other environmental benefits. SAF, derived from sustainably produced feedstocks, has the potential to reduce emissions by up to 85% over its life cycle. It also produces less soot, which can enhance air quality near airports.
Boeing's Chief Sustainability Officer, Chris Raymond, emphasized the significance of the collaboration, stating, "We've solved hard problems before, and if we continue to take meaningful actions, I'm confident we'll achieve a more sustainable aerospace future together."
The Boeing ecoDemonstrator program, which was expanded to include Explorer airplanes for specific test projects, previously conducted SAF emissions ground testing with an Alaska Airlines 737-9 in 2021 and ecoDemonstrator 777-200ER and 787-10 flight-test jets in 2022. Boeing aims to deliver commercial airplanes compatible with 100% SAF by 2030.
The 737-10, the most prominent member of Boeing's single-aisle 737 MAX family, is designed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 20% compared to its predecessors.
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