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Is a carbon-free aviation industry really possible?

6 episodes
  • 1
    “Pandemic: extra time to reduce CO2 emissions of aviation sector”
  • 2
    “We must reduce air travel to meet the Paris Climate Agreement”
  • 3
    Aviation: can hydrogen live up to the hype?
  • 4
    Biofuels, an alternative that is still too expensive
  • 5
    Fly easy with better aerodynamics
  • 6
    Composites for aeroplanes: light as a feather?
Épisode 1/6
Interview
James Bowers, Chief editor at Polytechnique Insights
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time

Venetia Baden-Powell
Venetia Baden-Powell
Equity research associate at Goldman Sachs

Key takeaways

  • Goldman Sachs recently published a report regarding the EU aviation industry, “The decarbonisation toolkit and what it will mean for airlines.”
  • In it, they say that the aviation industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with a ~70% drop in European air traffic, receiving over ~$160 billion in aid and 10-30% layoffs of employees.
  • Pre-pandemic aviation was responsible for 4% of CO2 emissions in Europe, which fell to 2% in 2020.
  • Some bailouts will have green conditions attached, such as Air France who have been imposed a reduction of 50% emissions per passenger per km by 2030.
  • With investment from the EU, the team expects to see a 15% transfer of air traffic to rail.
Épisode 2/6
Interview
Cécile Michaut, Science journalist
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time

Aurélien Bigo
Aurélien Bigo
PhD in economic sciences at Institut Polytechnique de Paris

Key takeaways

  • Even though fuel consumption per passenger has decreased fourfold since 1960, emissions are still increasing due to the long-term growth of the aviation industry.
  • In his PhD thesis for École Polytechnique, Aurélien Bigo has studied the ways in which France’s transport industry can meet its 2050 carbon neutral targets.
  • He believes that technical advances will not be enough – a profound change in the way we travel is required.
  • He suggests thinking in terms of emissions per transport time – 90kg CO2/h for air travel versus 0.6kg CO2/h for rail travel.
  • According to his study, only by reducing traffic can we decrease emissions and meet the Paris Climate Agreement.
Épisode 3/6
Analysis
On February 2nd, 2021
4 mins reading time

Unknown
Johnny Deschamps
Professor at the chemistry and processes unit at ENSTA Paris (IP Paris)
Samuel Saysset
Samuel Saysset
Lead techno advisor at ENGIE Research

Key takeaways

  • Hydrogen seems to be the only fuel that is both “clean” and suitable for the aviation industry of tomorrow.
  • Airbus has announced three concepts for hydrogen planes for 2035 and many start-ups are also working on solutions.
  • The French government has committed to investing more than €7bn in the hydrogen industry by 2030.
  • Before this project can really take off, there are many problems to solve, including hydrogen storage, production and cost.
Épisode 4/6
Analysis
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time

Samuel Saysset
Samuel Saysset
Lead techno advisor at ENGIE Research
Jean-Philippe Héraud
Jean-Philippe Héraud
Process engineer at IFP Energies nouvelles
Paul Mannes
Paul Mannes
director of Total Aviation, in charge of the worldwide business line
Jérôme Bonini
Jérôme Bonini
Research and Technology Director, Safran aircraft engines

Key takeaways

  • Biofuels provide an option to help the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint.
  • Current aeroplane models can run on jet fuel that contains 30-50% biokerosene.
  • To avoid competing with food supplies, biomass composed of waste and residue is the focus of industrial processes to produce biofuels.
  • At prices that are 1.5-2 times higher than kerosene, the cost remains a hurdle if biofuels are to remain competitive in comparison to fossil fuels.
Épisode 5/6
Analysis
Cécile Michaut, Science journalist
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time

Marie Couliou
Marie Couliou
Research scientist at ONERA and temporary lecturer at the Institut Polytechnique de Paris

Key takeaways

  • Each kilogram of kerosene saved is equivalent to 3.16 kg less CO2.
  • Making planes more aerodynamic is one way to reduce fuel consumption and, therefore, carbon emissions.
  • Modifying the configuration of aircraft or flying in a “V” formation like a flock of birds, Marie Couliou, a researcher at aerospace lab ONERA, explains new avenues to improve aerodynamics.
Épisode 6/6
Analysis
Cécile Michaut, Science journalist
On February 2nd, 2021
3 mins reading time

Patricia Krawczak
Patricia Krawczak
Professor in polymers and composites at Ecole Nationale Supérieure Mines-Télécom Lille Douai

Key takeaways

  • The aerospace industry is prepared to pay €100-500 for every kilogram saved.
  • Most recent aircraft are made of approximately 50% composites.
  • Development of these materials has reached a plateau, and innovation is needed to reduce weight.
  • Patricia Krawczak, professor at ENS Mines-Télécom Lille-Douai, explains why researchers are exploring new processes, such as 3D printing.

Contributors

James Bowers
James Bowers
Chief editor at Polytechnique Insights

James Bowers has a PhD in molecular biology from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle and an MSc in Science Media Production from Imperial College London. He has six years of experience creating engaging scientific media in digital, TV and other outlets in the UK and France. Most recently, James worked as a science communication consultant and trainer for a French agency, Agent Majeur, for three years where he co-authored the book, Sell Your Research: Public Speaking for Scientists published by Springer.

Cécile Michaut
Cécile Michaut
Science journalist

Cécile Michaut holds a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Paris-XI Orsay. She was a lecturer for two years before branching off into science journalism in 1999. Her collaborations include Le Monde, La Recherche, Pour la Science, Science et vie, Sciences et Avenir, Environnement Magazine... She also teaches science communication and media training for several research organisations and universities. She founded the company Science et partage (www.scienceetpartage.fr), and published the book "Vulgarisation scientifique, mode d'emploi" (EDP Sciences) in 2014.