Sunday, May 24, 2009

How Boeing is fighting climate change

The CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes takes to the national media to explain what Boeing is doing. Does he make the case for a new fuel-efficiency standard for new airplanes? Boeing has already flown a GE powered 747 using biofuels. And Rolls Royce powered 747. So is he right that the government is needed to get the biofuels industry going? How Boeing Fights Climate Change -
Addressing climate change is a particularly difficult challenge for commercial aviation. While technologies like batteries work for cars, they don't work for airplanes that require powerful propulsion systems. The good news is that there are things we can do to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of commercial planes -- and we're well on our way. At Boeing, we're tackling carbon emissions on three fronts. First, we are working to make each new generation of airplane lighter and more fuel efficient. There's plenty of incentive to develop more efficient airplanes. Historically, fuel has been the airlines' second-biggest operating expense next to labor. Last year, with oil reaching $140 a barrel, fuel costs even outstripped labor costs, rising to 40% of total airline operating expenses. So airlines have demanded increased efficiency from airplane and engine manufacturers. And manufacturers have responded big time. Over the past 50 years, the efficiency of commercial jets has risen an astounding 70%. This means that carbon emissions per mile flown have dropped 70% -- all without a regulatory requirement for greenhouse gas emissions. That said, we believe properly structured regulations could be useful. It's not often that an industry asks for additional regulation, but Boeing, GE and other airplane and engine manufacturers are convinced that a fuel-efficiency standard for new airplanes is an effective way to drive the development of fuel-saving technologies. ... While it's important to make airplanes more efficient, it's also critical that the system in which they fly is modernized. That's why our second major initiative is the work we're doing to improve air-traffic management. Fortunately, the technologies needed to give controllers and pilots a more precise picture of weather conditions and airplane positions, and the networking technologies needed to instantaneously share that information, already exist. Precision information, commonly shared, safely enables such fuel-saving and emissions-reducing operational changes as continuous, low-power descents, more direct routing, closer spacing, and curved approaches to landing. The challenge is getting the government to make the Federal Aviation Administration's plan for implementing these technologies, called NextGen, a priority. The government should commit long-term funding to ensure that it's completed as swiftly as possible. Third, we have been testing various advanced, sustainable biofuels with the goal of finding renewable fuels for aviation that don't compete with food crops for land and water and that emit 50%-80% less carbon than petroleum. We have conducted test flights using mixtures of standard jet fuel and several different sustainable biofuels, among them fuels made from algae and camelina (a plant that produces seeds that aren't used for food). All performed extremely well in flight. What's more, we have demonstrated that these and other sustainable biofuels have a lower freeze point than petroleum -- a very important characteristic for aviation. They also can have higher energy content per gallon. We're confident that sustainable biofuels will be price competitive with petroleum in the long-term. But government help -- consistent with international trade agreements -- is needed to get an aviation biofuels industry up and running....

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