Emissions Concerns Could Jeopardize Supersonic Flight

One of the talking points at last week’s Paris Air Show was the reintroduction of faster than the speed of sound airliners. While new supersonic jets are exciting, questions remain over how emission concerns could jeopardize supersonic flight.

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Noise and Emissions concerns could hinder new supersonic jet. Photo: Boom

Remember back in the 1970s, when you could fly between London, Paris and New York in three hours aboard the Concorde? The biggest concern back then was aircraft noise and not greenhouse gases.

Carbon footprint

The phrase we all hear and use today “carbon footprint” first appeared in the journal, Environment and Urbanization, after being used by Professor William Rees in a 1992 paper.

The University of British Columbia professor coined the phrase to describe what people take and use from nature, and nature’s ability to continue to supply them with it.

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Supersonic aircraft will be worse polluters than subsonic planes. Photo: Boom

Today we hear about climate change on a near daily basis and what we must do in order to reduce our carbon footprint. All around the world, and especially so in Europe, city after city is banning diesel and older high emission vehicles with the aim of having a majority of all electric cars on the roads by 2030.

In terms of the amount of CO2 per passenger, aircraft are some of the worst polluters on the planet. How to make aircraft engines more fuel efficient to tackle this problem is a focus for the majority of aircraft manufacturers right now. Supersonic flight is barely on the radar.

Boom Technology

For this reason, Denver based startup Boom Technology went out of their way in Paris to showcase the green credentials of the 75-seat, Mach 2.2 jetliner they are building. Boom’s airliner, named the Overture, is looking to fill a void left by Concorde. They hope it will be ready to by 2025.

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Companies like Boom are looking to fill the void left by Concorde. Photo: Wikipedia

The problem for Boom is that they do not want to spend billions of dollars on developing supersonic engines that conform to emission and noise levels. Rather they are intent on modifying existing engines.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) claims that modified jet engines will consume five to seven times more fuel than subsonic jet engines. The tinkered-with engines will also emit 40% more nitrogen and 70% more carbon dioxide, according to a report published by Reuters.

Based on the ICCT study, new supersonic airliners would be unable to meet standards for both emissions and noise currently in place. The ICCT claims that the only way to comply would be to build a new engine with a variable cycle option that would operate differently when taking off and when in cruise mode.

Other than this, Boom would have to get lawmakers to create a different set of rules for supersonic aircraft, something that is unlikely to happen in Europe.

But aren’t electric engines the future?

Shouldn’t we be investing our time looking at electric aircraft engines? This supersonic flight is all well and good, but not if it is going to be a bigger polluter than we already have.

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Electric engines are the future:Photo: MagniX

Renewable energy is the future and we should embrace it every step of the way. Electric aircraft engines will not burn carbon fuels, create excessive amounts of noise, and will be much cheaper to operate than what we are using today.

For me the future is electric, and while Concorde was great in its day we don’t need a new supersonic aircraft unless it is electric.

10 comments
  1. Batteries don’t have — and never will have — enough energy density to power a commercial aircraft, so please stop the delusion on that point.
    Hydrogen certainly has the necessary energy density; if it can be stored and handled safely, then that would be a very good solution.
    For the distant future, a compact and lightweight fusion reactor would work…but that’s currently a long way away.
    A supersonic aircraft using fossil fuels will be considered a “polluting toy of the affluent”, and the ecofascists will never allow it to fly.

    1. There is already a commercial aircraft that is battery powered… albeit a small one. Eviation Alice is 100% electric, seats 9 people and flys up to 600 miles. Not an A320 certainly, but a start 🙂

      1. Very nice, but I don’t think that 9 people qualifies as commercial in the conventional sense, and I don’t think that many airlines will be interested in a 600 mile range (which will further decrease as the batteries age). Also, how much re-charging time is required between flights? Probably several hours, so that won’t facilitate a fast turnaround. And is there any cargo on board? What about extra-weight facilities such as toilets and galleys, food and water? It all starts to become a major headache when you add all that into the equation.
        Next: what end-of-life solutions are there for the huge batteries, which contain nasty substances? This question also applies to electric cars, and is not asked often enough.
        Hydrogen is a much better alternative, which deserves more serious attention.

        1. Certainly take your point there. For interest, the recharging is at 2 to 1, so one hours recharging gives 2 hours flight time. Not aware it can take cargo except passenger luggage… the CEO described it as ‘a big battery with some aircraft bits painted on’ – haha. I agree a lot more needs to be done before it could effectively replace the aircraft we rely on today, but interesting to see nonetheless. And yes, I don’t think anyone has put enough thought into EOL solutions for electric cars… certainly something that needs thinking about.

          1. That’s interesting… although there’s a big safety barrier to overcome I should think. Batteries seem to be the single biggest problem facing energy supply right now; whoever develops a next generation energy storage tech will be the richest person on the planet!

  2. As I have stated many times before, the energy density isn’t there, or anywhere near. Even one of the previous articles said battery density has to increase 30 times. That’s a 3000% increase. If someone designs this magical battery, the rest will be simple.

  3. If suitable engines are chosen the aircradt need not have reheat to go supersonic. Supercruise is used by today’s F-35 and F-22, and to my knowledge was first achieved by the English Electric Lightning. There need be no huge increase in emissions.

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