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Virgin doing it better in the air?

by Colman Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 07:31:40 AM EST

Richard Branson has launched a mission to make air travel more environmentally friendly:

British billionaire Richard Branson proposed changes this morning to aircraft movements at busy airports as part of a plan he said would cut the world's aviation emissions by up to 25 per cent.

Mr Branson, who last week committed to spending all the profits from his airline and rail businesses to combat global warming, is lobbying airlines and airports to consider his cross-industry proposal to slash emissions.

The Virgin Group chairman proposed "starting grids" be set up at major airports which would allow a plane to be towed from its stand by a small tug closer to the runway before takeoff, reducing the time engines are running.

This would reduce fuel consumption and on-the-ground carbon emissions for Virgin Atlantic aircraft by more than 50 per cent ahead of take-off at London's Heathrow Airport and almost 90 per cent at New York's John F Kennedy airport, Mr Branson said in a statement.

The proposal is the next stage in Mr Branson's public pledge to help tackle global warming.

...

Mr Branson has created Virgin Fuels, which will invest $400 million over three years in renewable energy initiatives as part of his pledge.

A 25% reduction just through efficiency measures? Sounds good, especially if he's supporting research into alternative fuels.

Strangely enough, George Monbiot isn't impressed. Leaving aside the self-important introduction to his article where he more-or-less says that he's a much better engineer than everyone else he is putting forward the "I don't know how to do it so it can't be done" argument:

He singled out biofuels as a promising opportunity. While pure biodiesel can be used to run a car engine, it cannot be used in jet planes at a higher concentration than roughly 10%. This is because its "cloud point" is much higher than kerosene's. At low temperatures, oils go cloudy, and at a couple of degrees beyond that point, they form a gel that would block the engine. As the plane rises through the troposphere, and the temperature cools, its engines would clog and stall. Even a 10% mixture is likely to be fatal, as it raises the cloud point from -51C to -29C.

I guess they'll have to keep the fuel warm then. I thought the real problem was energy density? He does point out that Branson's Virgin fleet are less energy efficient than other companies because of the emphasis on business class and thus less passengers per plane.


Display:
The Virgin Group chairman proposed "starting grids" be set up at major airports which would allow a plane to be towed from its stand by a small tug closer to the runway before takeoff, reducing the time engines are running.

This would reduce fuel consumption and on-the-ground carbon emissions for Virgin Atlantic aircraft by more than 50 per cent ahead of take-off at London's Heathrow Airport and almost 90 per cent at New York's John F Kennedy airport, Mr Branson said in a statement.

Mr. Branson, are you saying 90% of aircrat fuel is spent taxying?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 07:37:03 AM EST
I think he's saying that 90% of the fuel spent in JFK is wasted.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 07:44:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
stupid enough to ring true, eh?

it's the same with cars, if you think about it, so much waste revving at the lights...

vw came out with a golf about 10 years ago that automatically switched off at traffic lights and started again at the touvh of the accelerator.

it didn't sell well, notwithstanding the brilliant innovation, and the benefits to those suffering from respiratory diseases, if that had been made mandatory on ALL cars!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:59:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Monbiot was a journalist, not an engineer, last I checked.
So now we know: Richard Branson doesn't read the Guardian. On Thursday, it published an extract from my book showing that there are no foreseeable substitutes for aviation fuel (kerosene) that don't currently cause more harm than good. A few hours later, Branson announced that he would be investing £1.6bn in technologies intended to reduce climate change. First among them would be alternative fuels for aircraft.
So now we know, Monbiot doesn't think it is possible that Branson disagrees with him after reading The Guardian. Anyway, Here's Monbiot's book excerpt
And that, I'm afraid, is that. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change discovered, "There would not appear to be any practical alternatives to kerosene-based fuels for commercial jet aircraft for the next several decades." There is, in other words, no technofix. The growth in aviation and the need to address climate change cannot be reconciled. In common with all other sectors, aviation's contribution to global warming must be reduced in the UK by some 87% if we are to avoid a 2C rise in global temperatures. Given that the likely possible efficiencies are small and tend to counteract each other, an 87% cut in emissions requires not only that growth stops, but that most of the aeroplanes flying today be grounded. I realise that this is not a popular message, but it is hard to see how a different conclusion could be extracted from the available evidence.
I can't see why it would be a bad thing to throw $400M, or £1.6bn in new engineering research.

Helen mentioned something about Kerosene from light, sweet crude actually running out in a few years' time, especially on the current consumption trends. So, if Kerosene does run out, Monbiot will get what he wants and planes will be grounded.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 07:44:45 AM EST
Monbiot is one of those making a career from playing Cassandra. I've forgotten how he got around while promoting his book. Sailboat I expect.

If we can reduce emissions 25% by just being less stupidly wasteful, and say another 25% through engineering efficiency that leaves us reducing flights to 1/3 the current level. Viable renewable or part renewable fuels could mean we don't have to reduce at all and could in fact increase the trips when planes are needed by cutting out the stupid trips where trains could do the job better and faster.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 07:51:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We should ask ElcoB about proposed passenger aircraft designs geared towards fuel efficiency at the expense of, say, time of travel.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 07:55:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good idea.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 07:59:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Specific objectives for European aeronautics include 50% and 80% cuts in CO2 and NOx emissions; respectively, a five-fold reduction in accidents; reduction of noise by 50%; and increased punctuality across the board, meaning 99% of all flights should arrive and depart within 15 minutes of the scheduled time. The updated SRA also puts forward an array of research solutions and technologies to meet and go beyond the ambitions expressed of the `Vision 2020' report.            

On the European level we have The Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), developed by the Advisory Council for Aeronautical Research in Europe (ACARE).
With a budget of several hundred millions Euro's lots of projects and initiatives are initiated in which the industry and  university's are involved: see PEGASUS and EASN.

On 6 April the European Commission adopted a proposal for a new EU programme for Research (FP7). In this frame we have the Joint Technology Initiative (JTI):

A JTI is a new instrument created by the European Commission for the 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7) to allow large scale and long term public private research partnerships to implement the ambitious research priorities of the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) which are of such scale that they will require the mobilisation and management of very substantial public and private investment.

The AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, ASD:
The "Clean Sky" JTI is an industry driven 7-year research programme plan for greener generation of European Air Transport that will radically improve impact on the environment......

One of the former projects was a a hydrogen plane : The  CRYOPLANE and also the Russians experimented.

So, a lot is happening, but a radical change in the near future cannot be expected.


The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 11:13:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are aerodynamic and speed changes that can improve efficiency.

Boeing has come up with several of them and mostly they require lower speeds ( by about 100mph ) and/or implementing the blended wing body (BWB).

I can provide concept images if there is interest.

Even a well designed winglet improves in flight consumption by almost 10% and I still do not understand why there are airplanes that fly without them.

Orthodoxy is not a religion.

by BalkanIdentity (balkanid _ at _ google.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 11:37:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
concept images

There's always interest in concept images ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 11:39:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From: FINAL TECHNICAL REPORT: Liquid Hydrogen Fuelled Aircraft - System Analysis



The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 12:25:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Monbiot:
On a return flight from London to New York, every passenger produces roughly 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide: the very quantity we will each be entitled to emit in a year once the necessary cut in emissions has been made.
Wikipedia:
Carbon offsets can be purchased by individuals, businesses and governments from a variety of commercial and non-commercial organizations, for as little as $0.10 per ton of carbon dioxide sequestered. For example, the UK government purchased offsets for the air travel required for the 31st G8 summit.
All this fuss over carbon emissions that can be offset for 12 cents? There must be something wrong somewhere. Monbiot again:
The second reason is that the climate impact of aeroplanes is not confined to the carbon they produce. They release several different kinds of gases and particles. Some of them cool the planet, others warm it. In the upper tropo-sphere, where most large planes fly, hot, wet air from the jet engine exhaust mixes with cold air. As the moisture condenses, it can form "contrails", which in turn appear to give rise to cirrus clouds - those high wispy formations of ice crystals sometimes known as "horsetails". While they reflect some of the sun's heat back into the space, they also trap heat in the atmosphere, especially at night; the heat trapping seems to be the stronger effect. The overall impact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a warming effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide alone.
Ok, so multiply the necessary offset by 2.7 times. It still won't break the bank.
Unlike most environmentalists, who have also called for this measure, the government knows perfectly well that fuel tax cannot be imposed on international flights. It is prohibited under international law by article 24 of the 1944 Chicago Convention, which has been set in stone by 4,000 bilateral treaties - making it almost impossible to unpick. Now the government proposes that aviation be incorporated into the European Emissions Trading Scheme. If flights continue to grow, it will break the system.
The damn Chicago Convention of CIA secret flight fame.
As far as aircraft engines are concerned, major new efficiencies in the next 20 years or so are a pipedream. The Royal Commission reports that "the basic gas turbine design emerged in 1947. It has been the dominant form of aircraft engine for some 50 years and there is no serious suggestion that this will change in the foreseeable future." It is hard to see how it could be made much more efficient than it is already.
It's especially hard if you're not an engineer. Are there any in the room? How about tradeoffs? Trading fuel efficiency for power, for instance?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:20:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is prohibited under international law by article 24 of the 1944 Chicago Convention, which has been set in stone by 4,000 bilateral treaties - making it almost impossible to unpick

You could do it by a simple multi-lateral agreement that explicitly superseded all previous treaties. The problem is that people wouldn't agree to it.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:24:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As Colman notes, flying will generally be less efficient than taking the train, for all the obvious reasons.

Secondly, there are discontinuities of various kinds, but we are certainly in a position to trade fuel efficiency for speed of flight on a lot of journeys. Of course, the politics and economics of getting that trade off made is the tricky bit.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:30:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All this fuss over carbon emissions that can be offset for 12 cents?

That's not the metric needed. On that price, with Monbiot's figures of per-capita emissions per year after the necessary reduction, the entire world's could be bought up for just $650 million. If something is wrong here, it's not Monbiot's argument.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:37:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not saying Monbiot's argument is wrong, but what is? (See his article Buying Complacency for a critique of carbon offsets: I still find it too vague)

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:39:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
big jetstream gliders?

zeppelins?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 09:01:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
everything exactly pro rata?

If people are willing to pay ten times more for the same quantity of oil if it's used for kerosene (among other things), then more oil will go to kerosene, which has few substitutes, than to other fuels which can more easily be replaced.

I don't see how business travellers, who already pay 600-1000 euros to fly within Europe, will need to pay much more even if oil prices increase a lot. So the price increase will not be enough to eliminate that kind of travel as it will fully pay for its way. Low cost is another story, of course.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 02:49:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Errrrm, there is a reason airplanes run on kerosene and not diesel oil. Can biofuels be made of kerosene's grade?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:32:49 AM EST
Kerosene is obtained from the fractional distillation of petroleum at 150°C and 275°C (carbon chains from the C12 to C15 range).

Any chemists in the room? Can ethanol be polymerised? Can cellulose be broken down to alkanes in this range?

What is the reason kerosene and not longer-chain alkanes are used for aviation fuel?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:37:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Energy density, I think.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:38:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Kerosene releases heat when burned, making it useful as a fuel. Its heating value, or heat of combustion, is around 18,500 Btu/lb, or 43.1 MJ/kg, making it similar to that of diesel.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:41:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In that case I'm very confused. It can't be the temperature issue.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:43:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And it's sure as hell not safety!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:43:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by asdf on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:53:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was talking about kerosene vs diesel, not kerosene vs gasoline. As far as I know diesel is even less volatile than kerosene. Though I'm not sure why  I think that.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:56:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's exactly the problem: diesel has longer carbon chains and so it is less volatile and more viscous, so it 'clouds' earlier that kerosene as it cools.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 09:22:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why not? Kerosene consists of medium-length linear-chain alkanes, and diesel consists of long alkanes (paraffins) and polycyclic hydrocarbons
Petroleum derived diesel is composed of about 75% saturated hydrocarbons (primarily paraffins including n, iso, and cycloparaffins), and 25% aromatic hydrocarbons (including naphthalenes and alkylbenzenes).[2] The average chemical formula for common diesel fuel is C12H26, ranging from approx. C10H22 to C15H32.


Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:48:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean it in the sense that the temp issue is one of engineering, not physics.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:49:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's evaporation and ignition temperature. Kerosene used for aircraft fuel also needs to be of a very high purity.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 08:58:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the constraints?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 09:01:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is an interplay between engine design and fuel design. Doesn't manon know about aircraft engines? Where is she when we need her?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 09:26:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it would be an enormous amount of fuel to keep warmer than the external temperature at 30,000 ft.

one could heat it at the intake, but it still seems dodgy. i bet kerosene withstands much colder temps before freezing.

anyone confirm or deny this supposition?

next: natgas and its possible use as jetfuel...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 09:07:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why? It starts off warm, so the problem is mainly insulation - which I guess is a problem if you're keeping fuel in thin wings.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 09:08:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm-m, I did some read-up. Branson wants ethanol, not biodiesel. Of ethanol, this study, says:

Ethanol, being an alcohol with similar properties to methanol, is also unsuitable as a jet fuel for similar reasons. Ethanol's energy density and specific energy are too low, and would thus limit aircraft range and maximum payload.

At low power settings ethanol jet engines would emit acetaldehyde (C2H4O) again bringing localised health problems around airports, especially for ground support staff.

Ethanol's flash point of 12°C is even lower than methanol's, so it would not meet jet fuel specification requirements, and would present major safety dangers.

So Monbiot was right for the worng reasons.

The study evaluates other possibilities, too. I summarise:

  • Biodiesel: as additive, it raises the cloud point (Monbiot directly lifted a sentence from the study here) as well as the freezing point, but there is research into refined biodiesel blends for which the effects are less. Fatty acids in biodiesel can be oxydised, but the resulting storage problem is minimal when it is a 10% additive. Production cost is significantly above that for oil-derived jet fuel even at the lower limit, potentially multiple times of it. There is also the issue of conflict with the needs of road traffic (which as afew et al calculated already can't be supplied from domestic biodiesel production).

  • Methanol: problems as for ethanol.

  • Synthetic kerosene: poor lubricity due to lack of sulphur and low aromatic content, but this can be mitigated with additives. Effect of lack of aromatic stuff on turbines must be investigated with tests. Somewhat lower energy density, impacts long-range flights. Too small domestic capacity for biofuel production (they calculate 10% of present demand). This is a very expensive option.

  • Liquefied methane: needs special engines, expensive, methane leeaks during the production chain or in the air have greenhouse effect [and for lack of a 'methane cycle', like the carbon cycle for CO2, this can't be ignored for biogas-methane].

  • They speak of liquefied H2 too. Significant aircraft modification needed. No solution yet for reducing nitrogen oxide emissions (solutions for kerosene-burning engines not applicable). Very expensive.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Sep 27th, 2006 at 09:59:48 AM EST


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