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Green aviation takes wing with electric aircraft designs

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BY GARETH WILLMER

As the aviation industry emerges from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, when passenger numbers plummeted, the number of flights is increasing again. The industry is recovering to pre-pandemic levels of air passenger journeys, with some estimates forecasting over 40% growth by 2050.

In general, crises aside, air passenger travel tends to double every 15 years, with the aviation sector also proving one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It currently accounts for 2% of global GHG emissions, but this is forecast to potentially triple by 2050 from 2015 levels on its existing trajectory. 

Given that the European Green Deal calls for climate-neutrality by 2050, a green reset is called for to improve the sustainability of aviation. Follow the link to learn more about the measures the EU is advocating to reduce aviation emissions.

Aviation is becoming more efficient with engine improvements, but decarbonisaton calls for alternatives to today’s fossil fuel-hungry aircraft.

Hybrid-electric and full-electric propulsion systems offer one answer. Such powertrains are already gaining traction on the ground, with global sales of electric cars doubling last year to 6.6 million.

Numerous projects are under way for aviation to follow suit, but they face many challenges, not least of which is the sheer weight of batteries. Follow the link to read more about sustainable aircraft design in Horizon Magazine.

Yet finding environmentally friendly alternatives that are simultaneously high-performance and profitable is of ‘paramount importance’, said Fabio Russo, head of research and development at aircraft manufacturer Tecnam in Capua, Italy.

Scalability

Russo led the H3PS (High Power High Scalability Aircraft Hybrid Powertrain) project, which investigated the potential of hybrid-electric systems in so-called ‘general aviation’ (GA) aircraft.

Covering more than 400 000 civilian aircraft around the world, this category includes private planes, business jets, helicopters and more, but not commercial airliners.

As aircraft that tend to be relatively small, the H3PS initiative views them as a first step towards developing electric propulsion systems for wider flights.

‘We need environmental solutions today, and the H3PS project was done to prove an efficient, low-weight and scalable solution,’ said Russo.

‘Scalable means you can move this concept from a four-seater aircraft up to an 11-seater or, eventually, more-seater aircraft.’

Hybrid powertrain

The project also involved Rolls-Royce and engine manufacturer Rotax. One of its objectives was to fly a four-seater aircraft powered by what’s known as a ‘parallel hybrid powertrain’ – combining both a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

The hybrid propulsion system can give a power ‘boost’ to the aircraft during flight phases such as take-off and climb, says Russo. With a hybrid, you can, for example, use a fuel engine with a lower power than normal and fill the gap for the aircraft to take off and climb with an electric motor.

‘You can therefore have access to a lower-consumption fuel engine,’ said Russo.

This approach enables a reduced engine size and weight, allowing the battery for the electric motor to be included without adding significant weight to the system.

Late last year, the project succeeded in taking to the skies with its Tecnam P2010 H3PS aircraft. As the first four-seater to do this using a parallel hybrid system, H3PS highlighted the achievement as ‘a major milestone on the aviation industry’s journey towards decarbonisation and R&D on alternative powertrains.’

Battery economy

Nevertheless, Russo emphasised that the project was about demonstrating the feasibility for such aircraft rather than creating a product for market. There is some way to go to make them a reality on a wide scale, he said.

‘There are still quite a lot of limits in terms of economics behind developing this kind of engine and aircraft,’ said Russo.

One key limiting factor is how the batteries deteriorate as they cycle through recharges. This means there is a high cost to keep replacing them on timescales that, at present, Russo estimates may be as little as a few months.

He believes improvements rest on a real drive, backed by support from the battery-manufacturing industry, to boost battery technology, while reducing shipping and decommissioning costs, and enhancing the circular economy.

‘A local economy for battery manufacturing is essential,’ said Russo. ‘This will also mean that CO2 is not saved only during operation, but well before and after the battery’s use in an aircraft.’

He added that for aircraft components as a whole, focus is required on the full end-to-end lifecycle and impact of products.

Viable hybrids

Russo believes such hybrid aircraft could become more economically viable by about 2030, with the potential to save significantly on emissions in certain flight phases.

One test his team performed indicated a potential 50% reduction in carbon emissions during take-off and initial climb, and 20% during the whole three-hour journey, suggested by the lower amount of fuel used.

‘At the end of the flight, when we measured the fuel we consumed, the difference was remarkable,’ said Russo.

Other projects are investigating how to optimise different components for future electric propulsion aviation systems to make them as lightweight as possible, as well as safe and efficient.

Electromagnetic interference

For example, the EASIER project has been designing systems to limit electromagnetic interference (EMI) between components that may affect an aircraft’s functioning.

The team is also investigating thermal methods to better dissipate heat generated by electrical components. That is all while trying to ensure the aircraft remain lightweight, taking the size and weight of current batteries into account.

Dr Ignacio Castro, a senior principal engineer at Collins Aerospace, based in Cork, Ireland, is the coordinator for EASIER. He said the project has been looking into EMI filtering and wiring options with lower volume and weight for electrical powertrains in aircraft, plus ‘two-phase’ cooling systems and methods to improve rates of heat transfer to an aircraft’s exterior.

He explained that there’s a need to prepare now for the long-term future of electric systems. ‘Any change that we make to an aircraft to make it greener could potentially increase the weight of the aircraft,’ said Dr Castro.

‘That also increases the amount of fuel consumed, so we might not have an aircraft that is fully ready for flight. We need to make things smaller.’

Some of EASIER’s upcoming work involves more investigation of the trade-offs between methods. ‘The idea is that we will see how the thermal systems are affecting the EMI and vice versa, to see what the implications are,’ said Dr Castro.

Trade-offs

There are all kinds of other trade-offs to understand when it comes to manufacturing electric aircraft. For example, while making things smaller decreases weight, it can cause things to heat up faster too – much like a small house warms up quicker when heated. ‘That’s the kind of trade-off with weight, size and efficiency, and it’s not that simple,’ said Dr Castro.

He added that integrating all the individual technologies into a well-functioning overall aircraft system will be key in future research.

‘It’s about understanding what the architectures should look like to be made as efficient as possible,’ said Dr Castro.

Comparing it to construction, he stressed that you can’t just throw bricks together in any way to make a building. ‘You need to put things together in a way that’s smart in the context of power delivery,’ he said.

Right direction

Though there are many complex issues to resolve in electric aviation, Dr Castro believes things are starting to move in the right direction. ‘I think we’re taking the right paths towards hybrid-electric aviation, and there’s a lot of interest and many programmes,’ he said. ‘That would be the first step to start reducing carbon emissions.’

Ensuring these new systems run smoothly and safely is also essential. Safety is paramount and a single crash is enough to generate big headlines and plenty of fear.

That means a need to take significant care with developments. ‘There’s a risk saying things are going to be great, particularly when things need to be extremely reliable for aircraft,’ pointed out Dr Castro. ‘It’s a paradigm shift in technology.’

There is also much investment needed and many questions to address in the coming decades, he said. ‘The challenge towards net-zero emissions in the EU by 2050 is a huge challenge, and I don’t think at the moment anyone has a definite answer,’ said Dr Castro. ‘It’s the one-million dollar question.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU and originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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Renewable energy jobs rise by 700,000 in a year, to nearly 13 million

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Worldwide employment in the renewable energy sector reached 12.7 million last year, a jump of 700,000 new jobs in just 12 months, despite the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the growing energy crisis, according to a new report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO).

Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2022, identifies domestic market size as a major factor influencing job growth in renewables, along with labour and other costs.

Solar growing fastest

Solar energy was found to be the fastest-growing sector. In 2021 it provided 4.3 million jobs, more than a third of the current global workforce in renewable energy.

With rising concerns about climate change, COVID-19 recovery and supply chain disruption, countries are turning inwards to boost job creation at home, focusing on local supply chains.

The report describes how strong domestic markets are key to anchoring a drive toward clean energy industrialization. Developing renewable technology export capabilities is also dependent on this, it adds.

‘Just transition for all’

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said that “beyond the numbers, there is a growing focus on the quality of jobs and the conditions of work in renewable energies, to ensure decent and productive employment.

“The increasing share of female employment suggests that dedicated policies and training can significantly enhance the participation of women in renewable energy occupations, inclusion and ultimately, achieve a just transition for all.”

Mr. Ryder encouraged governments, organized labour and business groups “to remain firmly committed to a sustainable energy transition, which is indispensable for the future of work.”

Resilient and reliable

IRENA’s Director-General, Francesco La Camera, said that in the face of numerous challenges, “renewable energy jobs remain resilient, and have been proven to be a reliable job creation engine. My advice to governments around the world is to pursue industrial policies that encourage the expansion of decent renewables jobs at home.

“Spurring a domestic value chain will not only create business opportunities and new jobs for people and local communities. It also bolsters supply chain reliability and contributes to more energy security overall.”

Joining the renewable revolution

The report shows that an increasing number of countries are creating jobs in the renewables sector – almost two-thirds of them in Asia.

China alone accounts for 42 per cent of the global total, according to the report, followed by the EU and Brazil with 10 per cent each, and the US and India with seven per cent each.

Regional trends

Southeast Asian countries are becoming major solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing hubs and biofuel producers, while China is the pre-eminent manufacturer and installer of solar PV panels and is creating a growing number of jobs in offshore wind.

India added more than 10 Gigawatts of solar PV, generating many installation jobs, but remains heavily dependent on imported panels, the report notes.

Europe now accounts for about 40 per cent of the world’s wind manufacturing output and is the most important exporter of wind power equipment; it is trying to reconstitute its solar PV manufacturing industry.

Africa’s role is still limited, but the report points out that there are growing job opportunities in decentralized renewables, while in the Americas, Mexico is the leading supplier of wind turbine blades.

Brazil remains the leading employer in biofuels but is also adding many jobs in wind and solar PV installations. The US is beginning to build a domestic industrial base for the budding offshore wind sector.

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Guterres: ‘Global addiction to fossil fuels’ must end and a ‘renewables revolution’ jumpstarted

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Achieving a just and equitable energy transition is “one of the biggest challenges facing our world,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Global Compact Board meeting on Sunday.

Climate disasters and skyrocketing fuel prices have made the need to “end our global addiction to fossil fuels” crystal clear, he said, underscoring the importance of investing in renewables, building resilience, and scaling up adaptation.

“Had we invested massively in renewable energy in the past, we would not be in the middle of a climate emergency now”.

Renewals: ‘Only credible path’

Renewables are “the only credible path” to real energy security, stable power prices and sustainable employment opportunities, said the UN chief.

He also maintained that the share of renewables in global electricity generation must increase from nearly 30 per cent today to over 60 per cent in 2030 and 90 per cent in 2050. 

“Leaders in business as well as government must stop thinking about renewables as a distant project of the future”, underscored the top UN official.

“Without renewables, there can be no future”.

Key energy priorities

The Secretary-General went on to outline his Five-Point Energy Plan to shift to renewables, beginning with treating the technologies as freely available “global public goods”.

“Identifying patents that can be made freely available – especially those relating to battery and storage capacity – are crucial for a rapid and fair energy transition,” he said.

Next, he highlighted the need to secure, increase, and diversify supply chains for renewable energy technologies, pointing out that supply chains for components and raw materials are “still concentrated in a handful of countries”.

Third, was to level the playing field for renewables.

“We have the technology, capacity, and funds,” said the UN chief, “but we urgently need to put policies and frameworks in place to incentivize investments and eliminate bottlenecks caused by red tape, permits and grid connections”.

Shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy was his fourth point, as he noted that each year, governments spend around half a trillion dollars to artificially lower the price of fossil fuels – “more than triple what renewables receive”.

“If we channel these resources and subsidies to renewables, we not only cut emissions; we also create more decent and green jobs,” he argued.

Financing the future

Mr. Guterres’ fifth and final point focused on the importance of tripling public and private investments in renewables to at least $4 trillion dollars a year.

“Upfront costs for solar and wind power account for 80 per cent of lifetime costs – meaning big investments today will reap even bigger rewards tomorrow,” he said.

However, this requires: financing to flow to those who need it most; adjusted risk frameworks and more flexibility to scale up renewable finance; and lowering financing costs for developing countries.

“The cost of capital for renewable energy projects in the developing world can be seven times higher than in the developed world,” flagged the UN chief, flagging that Africa attracts a mere two per cent of clean energy investments despite its vast renewable energy potential.

Walking the talk

According to Mr. Guterres, a just transition to a renewable energy future is everybody’s business, including the private sector to advance science-based targets and Just Transition plans, in partnership with labour organizations and civil society.

Lip service won’t do. We need credible actions and accountability,” he underscored.

Every business and investor; every city and country must “walk the talk” on their net-zero promises to realize the Paris Agreement and rescue the Sustainable Development Goals, added the UN chief.

“The UN Global Compact is poised to help in this vital effort,” he spelled out, urging everyone to accelerate action across industries and regions “to jumpstart the renewables revolution”.

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The Future of Energy Prices and How You Can Prepare Yourself

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Even in the best of circumstances, it is difficult to forecast energy costs, and the current level of market instability makes it impossible to state whether energy prices will decrease this year. Despite the fact that prices have fluctuated throughout the year, the general trend has been upward.

Energy researchers and research firm Cornwall Insight have predicted that prices may continue to rise well into 2024.

The prices you face won’t change for the rest of the year and into 2023, though, thanks to the revelation that the energy price guarantee has capped prices for both households and businesses.

Should you fix your energy rates till 2023?

The only approach to maintain bill stability in a volatile market and guard off future price increases is to fix your energy prices.

Although it’s impossible to forecast if prices will go up further, they have increased dramatically over the past year, and anyone who had a fixed plan in September 2021 would have saved a lot of money on their energy costs.

It’s doubtful that you’ll have to switch until at least April of next year due to the implementation of the energy price guarantee in October. This is due to the fact that most firms’ energy costs will be limited till then.

When in doubt, think about performing a Business Energy Comparison of rates from various trusted energy providers in the UK.

What would happen if you were unable to pay your business’s electricity bills?

It’s crucial to contact your provider right away to work out a payment plan if you are struggling to pay your company’s energy costs. In under 30 days of your missing payment, if you don’t resolve the issue with your supplier, they may take steps to cut off your energy supply.

Will the increases in energy prices ever stop?

The chief executive of Centrica, the holding firm of British Gas, has said there is “no reason” to anticipate gas prices to decline sometime soon, despite the fact that it is challenging to foresee exactly what will transpire in such a volatile energy market. He even predicted that there would be high petrol costs over the following 1.5–2 years.

The government seems to be dealing with tension by intervening and assisting customers by reducing the VAT or other fees that are not clearly connected to the wholesale energy prices.

Trade organizations have urged the government to provide financial assistance to company owners in the form of reduced energy-related VAT, a commercial energy price cap, as well as a Government Emergency Energy Grant for SMEs – basically, Covid-style aid for this most recent crisis.

Now that a price limitation on commercial energy has been established, there are few specifics available. Beginning on October 1, the price cap will be in effect for six months.

After three months, there’ll be a review to determine if the cap should be increased for particularly fragile sectors, such as the hotel industry.

How can you reduce energy costs for your company?

Businesses must lock in current prices as quickly as possible if they want to protect themselves against out-of-contract charges and any likely new price increases.

It might be beneficial to consider how and when you use gas and electricity if you wish to reduce the cost of your company’s energy bills. Think about the following, then:

•             Examine the times you heat your building.

•             Turn off appliances,

•             monitor the weather,

•              and get a smart meter to cut costs

•             Be aware of the price of water.

•             When they’re not in use, turn off the lights, or install light sensors.

•             Encourage your team to be energy conscious.

•             Ensure your structure is airtight.

•             Avoid using paper as much as possible.

•             Obtain an energy audit.

But you must also maintain reality. If your energy prices increase, you could still notice it on your income statement even if you implement all practical energy-saving strategies and drastically reduce your consumption since you still need to consume a minimum amount of energy to keep your business operating.

Considerations before selecting an energy agreement

There are different business energy tariffs available; if you select the incorrect one, your company will spend too much on energy supply.

Additionally, because you are bound to the terms of the contract when you sign a business energy agreement, you may be overpaying for up to 5 years.

Here’s why it absolutely is worthwhile to compare business gas and business electricity packages, even if you might be thinking if it’s really worth the effort.

If you haven’t yet changed your business energy supplier, your existing supplier will put you on an exorbitant “out of contract rates” arrangement. These prices may be up to double the cost of contracted rates and even more so in the present market.

When switching, you should be aware that the prices you receive will depend on a variety of factors, including how much energy you use, where your business is located, and whether or not your company is financially stable.

If your company has a low credit score, you may wind up paying higher prices since your company is seen to be riskier.

Additionally, it’s important to be aware that corporate energy providers do not provide dual fuel contracts, although if you subscribe to a gas and electricity arrangement from the same provider, those will still be two different energy contracts.

What if your firm is moving to a new location?

One of the two situations listed below will occur to your energy contract if your company relocates:

•             It will be moved to your new place of business.

•             It will be canceled, and you’ll have to establish a new agreement at your new location.

It’s uncommon to be given the option to cancel a commercial energy contract early after signing one.

This is so that your supplier won’t lose money if you terminate the contract before the predetermined end date since it will purchase the appropriate amount of energy to last you the whole period of the contract.

Moving your company is a rare opportunity to terminate your existing business energy contract slightly earlier and transfer to a better price, but you must carefully consider your alternatives before making the transition.

Your provider will handle the transfer of your current energy contract to your new location, ensuring no problems arise and that you are only charged for the period beginning on the day you relocate into the new location.

If you decide to transition to a new agreement with a different provider, you will need to make arrangements for the settlement of your last commercial energy bill or for any refunds you may be owed if your account has been positive.

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