Scientists are one flight closer to net zero aviation fuel

One of the gravest concerns in terms of achieving carbon neutrality is air travel. Now an interdisciplinary team of researchers believe they may have the answer. 

Scientists working at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have announced a major breakthrough in the search for a less harmful, low polluting way of achieving flight. According to their report, a recipe for net zero fuel for planes has been developed. 

gray and white airplane on flight near clear blue sky

The formula consists a magnesium hydride slurry (magnesium and hydrogen combined), mixed with hydro-carbon fuel. This burns at a lower volume than today’s aviation fuel, which also means the range of aircraft could increase. However, it is important to note that while magnesium is found in abundance, its presence is most common in the world’s oceans, and therefore shifting a sector the size of aviation to this fuel could pose its own problems in terms of ecosystem and habitat destruction. 

Led by Jagan Jayachandran, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering, and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Adam Powell, it is hoped their work could finally help overcome one of the biggest climate and air pollution obstacles, with aviation accounting for around 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with that figure expected to continue climbing in the coming years.

The world’s economy heavily reliant on the ability to fly for business and cargo, not to mention people in many parts of the planet long since growing accustomed to overseas travel. As such, finding a solution that still facilitates this kind of transport, but tackles the hugely problematic environmental record, is essential. 

‘As aviation continues to grow, so will the industry’s emissions,’ said Powell. ‘We need to think out of the box and look at sustainable materials that will contribute to a long-term solution toward reducing the transportation sector’s carbon footprint.

‘We found this fuel would have up to 8% more range than other today’s jet fuel, and more than two to three times longer range than liquid hydrogen or ammonia which other researchers have proposed as sustainable fuels,” they continued.

In October, the global aviation industry made a net zero pledge for the first time, committing to a date of 2050. To understand exactly how damaging flying is, revisit our article on the five busiest European airports, and how their emissions compare to entire nations

Image: John McArthur



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