Wanted: Impactful Solutions to power Sustainable Aviation

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[Clean Aviation]

Impactful, disruptive technologies that push the boundaries of innovation are required to make climate-neutral aviation a reality by 2050.

Axel Krein is the Executive Director of Clean Aviation.

The Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking seeks to fund approximately 20 projects to the tune of €735 million within its first Call for Proposals that can enable eco-friendly aircraft to take off by 2035. More than 75% of the current fleet of aircraft – around 40 000 planes – will need to be replaced if climate-neutral aviation is to become a reality by 2050.

The ambitious timeframe means that the technological solutions proposed will need to be demonstrated on ground and in flight by no later than 2028, if they are to fly on in service aircraft by 2035. This means that we are looking for innovations that are already advanced along the technology readiness pipeline, rather than very early ideas.

We have launched our first Call for Proposals and are searching for novel solutions – find out more on our website or watch our video for more information.

The reduction in flights caused by the pandemic over the past two years has indeed lowered emissions – albeit with a significantly negative impact on the world’s economy and people’s lives. The goal of Clean Aviation is to foster the development of disruptive technological innovations so that travelling by plane can be maintained while simultaneously contributing to climate-neutrality.

By 2035, our new aircraft concepts will be able to decrease aircraft greenhouse gas emissions by no less than 30% compared to 2020 state-of-the-art technology, paving the way towards climate-neutral aviation by 2050.

The lessons learned from the Clean Sky and Clean Sky 2 programmes have enabled us to identify those areas that yield the most impactful results, and we have made strategic decisions to focus on solutions in those fields.

We are starting with regional and small-medium range aircraft which are today responsible for approximately 2/3 of world-wide aviation CO2 emissions.

Thanks in part also to the broad scope of the Clean Sky and Clean Sky 2 programmes, we’ve been able to narrow our focus in Clean Aviation to three main thrusts: hybrid electric regional aircraft, ultra-efficient short and medium range aircraft, and disruptive technologies to support hydrogen-powered aircraft. We have identified these three target areas as the best route towards climate neutrality in aviation and we will now be channelling all our efforts in those directions.

Not all solutions are available to us at present and there is definitely scope for new and innovative concepts. We particularly wish to see novel ideas that can generate impact for Clean Aviation.

When we think about building aircraft in Europe, we often think about a very specialised and relatively small community. However, large industry players are not the only ones developing key solutions. In Clean Sky 2 for instance, 39% of our participants are small and medium enterprises. We work with companies that specialise in niche areas, for example 3D printing, big data, simulation software etc. All in all, nearly 1000 entities from all over Europe are involved in Clean Sky 2.

Applying emerging innovative technologies to aviation works very well in many cases. The CARING project, led by SME Open Airlines, used big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify areas where emissions could be cut during flight, and introduced the concept to airlines. Now called the SkyBreathe® system, in 2019 it contributed to saving 150 million USD and reducing the aviation sector’s carbon footprint by more than 590 000 tons, equivalent to planting 75 million trees.

Car manufacturing companies are also a source of inspiration; some of the sustainable technologies that are used in cars could be scaled up to work in aircraft.

While the traditional aviation industry plays an important role in our programme, many others contribute to Clean Aviation. As in Clean Sky 2 and Clean Sky, the Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking aims to harness the skills and know-how of industry experts, university academics, SMEs and start-up innovators as well as research organisations, to develop, mature and demonstrate the crème de la crème of sustainable innovation technology. We are not starting from scratch – the achievements of Clean Aviation will build on the foundations laid by the Clean Sky and Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertakings, both of which have contributed to significant technological advances to enable the reduction of CO2, NOx and noise emissions from aviation.

One big change that has evolved as we move from Clean Sky 2 to Clean Aviation is that our Calls have now become completely open. Whereas previously a certain amount of the budget was earmarked for our Members, in Clean Aviation 100% of the available funding will be subject to open calls. We are eager to attract impactful solutions to power the sustainable aircraft of the future, and this means leveraging all the talent in Europe.

The European Union has the potential to be a world leader in this arena. With the Green Deal, the EU has placed itself at the forefront of the global transition to climate neutrality, and Clean Aviation will pave the way to a sustainable aviation sector. If Europe is the first continent to truly revolutionise flight and make it carbon-neutral, not only will we lead the way towards a healthier and safer world, but we will also have a competitive advantage over other global economies, which translates into more jobs and a stronger European economy.

Our strategic goal is to attract the best solutions from across Europe, no matter the sector. In Clean Aviation, we aim to encourage daring and big-picture thinking. A mere 10% improvement will not help us to achieve climate neutrality. Our goal is to decrease aircraft greenhouse gas emissions by no less than 30% compared to 2020 state-of-the-art aircraft, and for that we need radical and impactful new ideas.

The first Call for Proposals is now live and it is the biggest Call for Proposals ever launched by either Clean Aviation or Clean Sky, with €735 million allocated for projects. The deadline to submit proposals is 23 June 2022 at 17:00 CET – find out more on our website.

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