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Green aviation takes wing with electric aircraft designs

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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.


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.


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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Guterres leads call to make Africa ‘renewable energy superpower’

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The flame of injustice is “scorching hopes and possibilities” across Africa as the world grapples with the climate crisis, with the continent suffering some of the worst impacts of global warming said the UN chief on Tuesday.

Secretary-General António Guterres was addressing the African Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, noting that despite “extreme heat, ferocious floods, and tens of thousands dead from devastating droughts”, the continent was responsible for less than four per cent of emissions.

“The blow inflicted on development is all around with growing hunger and displacement”, he said.

‘Quantum leap’

But amid the “climate chaos” he said it was still possible to avoid the worst, “but only with a quantum leap in climate action.”

He said far greater climate ambition was needed from all countries led by the largest emitters, in line with his Climate Solidarity Pact and Acceleration Agenda.

He called on the G20 advanced economies meeting in Delhi this week, to take responsibility and commit to reaching net zero emissions as close as possible to 2040.

Secondly, he called for “climate justice” to reach goals on renewable and affordable energy, particularly in Africa. This means operationalizing the agreed loss and damage fund, universal early warning systems, and a “course correction in the global financial system.”

‘World leader in renewable energy’

Third, Africa is rich in untapped renewable energy with the potential to become a world leader in renewables and “green growth.”

It has nearly a third of the world’s mineral reserves for solar power, electric vehicles and battery storage.

“To truly benefit all Africans, the production and trade of these critical minerals must be sustainable, transparent and just across every link of the supply chain”.

The UN chief pointed to the Greater Horn region where over 85 per cent of electricity comes from renewables. Mozambique gets nearly all its energy from green and sustainable resources.

And wind and solar projects are already helping power Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and South Sudan.

He called for a collective effort to create “a true” African Renewable Energy Alliance.

‘African miracle’

“Renewable energy could be the African miracle but we must make it happen. We must all work together for Africa to become a renewable energy superpower.”

Mr. Guterres told the conference of African leaders and stakeholders hosted by Kenya and the African Union Commission that he was convinced the continent “can be at the heart of a renewable future.”

He said now was the time for all nations “to stand as one in defence of our only home. Let’s deliver the climate justice that Africans, the world, and the planet we share, demand and deserve.”

Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi after his speech, the Secretary-General said it was time to end the injustices that are holding the continent back. He pledged to work closely with African leaders and organizations such as the AU, to accelerate progress.

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WP: Drop in energy needs points to a further deterioration in industrial activity in Europe

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Europe has an even stronger ally to keep gas prices under check heading into the colder months: extremely weak demand. The manufacturing crisis that’s plaguing the continent — industrial activity in Germany has contracted for 14 consecutive months — is the best antidote against a gas supply squeeze. With friends like that, who needs enemies? – asks ‘The Washington Post’.

Europe is defeating its energy crisis thanks to the impact that said crisis has had on its industrial heartland. Across the continent, many energy-intensive companies have either closed or reduced production after not being able to cope with higher energy prices. The fertilizer, chemical, metallurgic, glass, paper and ceramic industries are particularly affected. All those shuttered factories don’t need gas or electricity now.

In Germany, activity among energy-intensive companies plunged in June by nearly 18% versus late 2020, according to official data. During the same month, industrial gas demand also declined 18% compared with a year ago. In July, gas demand posted an even deeper plunge, falling 22.9% from a year earlier, the largest decline so far in 2023. When official industrial production data is released for July in a few weeks, that drop in energy needs points to a further deterioration in industrial activity.

Due to anemic manufacturing activity and lower-than-expected gas-burn in the electricity sector, Morgan Stanley reckons that total gas demand in Europe is running about 15% below the five-year average, even when adjusted by the impact of the weather. With consumption low and LNG supply so far plentiful, Europe has been able to inject a record amount of gas into underground storage over the spring and summer — despite most countries in the region no longer having access to Russian pipeline gas supply.

European gas stocks are nearly 92% full — a record high for this time of the year. If the current injection pace continues, inventories would reach 100% by mid-September.

And yet, it would be of little solace for the continent’s industrialists. Currently, European gas prices are running at about €35 ($38) per megawatt hour, compared with the 2010-2020 average of just over €20. Wholesale electricity prices are running above €140 per megawatt hour, more than triple the 2010-2020 average of €38.5.

The real problem is that companies know that any supply issue, real or perceived, would trigger a price rally, because even with nearly full stockpiles, Europe needs all the gas it can grab to make it through the winter. The manufacturing sector remains the go-to segment of consumption to find extra demand destruction. Hence, why so many chief executive officers are reluctant to bring back production capacity, fearing reactivating a plant only to get caught again by higher prices.

As such, the price of avoiding the energy crisis is a deep recession in the manufacturing sector, and a long-term loss of economic growth.

German businesses are increasingly curbing investments and eyeing production abroad amid high energy prices at home, informs Bloomberg.

Over half of surveyed companies say the energy transition is having negative or very negative effects on their competitiveness, according to a report by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Among manufacturers, almost a third are considering or already executing a production shift abroad — twice as much as during last year’s energy crisis.

“The German economy’s confidence in energy policy has fallen to a low point,” the group’s chairman Achim Dercks said. “Concerns about competitiveness have never been greater.”

Germany’s manufacturing-heavy economy has seen a protracted period of weakness that shows few signs of abating amid plunging business confidence, and it’s the only major European nation whose output is forecast to shrink this year. While manufacturers used to enjoy relatively cheap power costs when Germany was still receiving pipeline gas from Russia, last year’s crisis forced the country to revamp its plan for future supplies. Its energy prices are currently among the highest in Europe.

While the expansion of renewable energy sources is expected to eventually bring costs down, they are likely to remain elevated until at least 2027, according to the government. Among large industrial companies — who often already have links to production abroad — one in four have already started or completed further capacity movements.

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EU imports record volumes of LNG from Russia

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The EU is set to import record volumes of liquefied natural gas from Russia this year, despite aiming for the bloc to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels by 2027, Financial Times informs.

In the first seven months of this year, Belgium and Spain were the second and third-biggest buyers of Russian LNG behind China, according to analysis of industry data by Global Witness, a nongovernment organisation.

Overall, EU imports of the super-chilled gas were up 40 per cent between January and July this year compared with the same period in 2021.

The jump comes from a low base as the EU did not import significant amounts of LNG before the war in Ukraine due to its reliance on piped gas from Russia. But the rise is much sharper than the global average increase in imports of Russian LNG, which was 6 per cent over the same period, Global Witness said.

The NGO’s analysis is based on data from industry analytics company Kpler, which showed that the EU is importing about 1.7 per cent more Russian LNG than it did when imports hit a record high last year.

Global Witness said the cost of the LNG imported from January to July at spot market prices amounted to €5.29bn. “It’s shocking that countries in the EU have worked so hard to wean themselves off piped Russian fossil gas only to replace it with the shipped equivalent,” said Jonathan Noronha-Gant, senior fossil fuel campaigner at Global Witness.

Most of the Russian volumes come from the Yamal LNG joint venture, which is majority-owned by the Russian company Novatek.

As well as resulting in billions of euros in revenues going to Russia at a time when the EU continues to tighten its sanctions regime against Moscow, the import levels leave the EU exposed to any sudden decision by the Kremlin to cut supplies as it did for piped gas last year.

Alex Froley, senior LNG analyst at consultancy ICIS, said that “long-term buyers in Europe say they will keep taking contracted volumes unless it is banned by politicians”. He added that an EU ban on imports would cause some disruptions to shipping as global trade patterns would need to be rearranged, “but ultimately Europe could find other suppliers and Russia other buyers”.

Belgium imports large volumes of Russian LNG because its port of Zeebrugge is one of the few European points of transshipment for LNG from ice-class tankers used in the high north to regular cargo vessels.

Spain’s utility Naturgy and France’s Total also have continuing contracts for large quantities of Russian LNG, analysts said. EU policymakers have been urging European companies not to buy Russian LNG. Spanish energy minister Teresa Ribera, whose government is chairing the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, said in March that LNG should be hit with sanctions, adding that the situation was “absurd”.

Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner, has said that the bloc “can and should get rid of Russian gas completely as soon as possible, still keeping in mind our security of supply”.

EU officials have pointed to an overall effort to phase out Russian fossil fuels by 2027, but warned that an outright ban on LNG imports risked prompting an energy crisis akin to last year when EU gas prices hit record highs of more than €300 per megawatt hour.

One official said that despite European gas storage containers being more than 90 per cent full ahead of winter, there was still “a lot of nervousness” should there be any further cuts to supplies.

Russian LNG accounted for 21.6mn, or 16 per cent, of the EU’s total 133.5mn cubic metres of LNG imports (equivalent to 82bn cubic metres of natural gas) between January and July, Kpler data shows, making it the bloc’s second-biggest supplier of the liquid fuel after the US.

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