A ground-breaking transatlantic flight fully powered by greener fuel took off on 28 November marking a major milestone in the development of sustainable aviation fuel (or SAF).
The Virgin Atlantic flight, flown on a Boeing 787, is the first commercial flight to fly across the Atlantic using 100% SAF, a feat made possible by the engineers from the University of Sheffield and Imperial College of London (ICL).
Flight100 flew from London Heathrow and to New York JFK to demonstrate the potential of using SAF on long-haul flights. This is a big step toward replacing jet fuel and decarbonising the aviation industry.
Along with carbon dioxide, flights also release particulate matter which can lead to contrails—thick white streaks in the sky. Previous studies have shown that contrails, especially those that persist at night, have a significant impact on the environment by trapping heat and causing a greenhouse effect. This effect can be minimised by using SAF, ICL’s press statement explained.
To confirm that sustainable aviation fuel reduces carbon dioxide emission by up to 70% as compared to traditional jet fuel, the research team measured particulate matter emitted through a smaller-scale aircraft, the University of Sheffield’s press statement added.
“If the atmosphere is sufficiently cold and humid, water will form droplets on particulate matter emitted by the engine. These droplets quickly freeze and then collectively become a contrail. If there are fewer particles, as we expect from the use of SAF, the contrail won’t last for as long and will therefore have a smaller climate effect,” Marc Stettler, of ICL, said in the statement.
SAF has an important role in reaching the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. SAFs look, smell and function like traditional jet fuel and hence can be used without modifications, the researchers explain. They are made from waste products and can be used in existing engines and fuel infrastructure.
However, less than 0.1 per cent of global jet fuel requirement is met using SAFs and current fuel standards allow for just a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines. Flight100’s successful journey aims to increase these numbers.