Green Issues: A greener future for air freight?

Like all human activities involving combustion, most forms of aviation release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. This contributes to the acceleration of global warming and ocean acidification. In the European Union, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation increased by 87% between 1990 and 2006, which is of great concern to those working in the air freight industry. However, scientific advancements mean that the aircraft of tomorrow could capture and re-use some of their own power. This could be done by harnessing energy from the wheel rotation of the landing gear to generate electricity. This power could then be used to power an aircraft’s taxiing to and from airport buildings, reducing the need to use their jet engines. This would cut emissions, save on aviation fuel and reduce noise pollution at airports.

The energy produced by an aircraft’s braking system during landing is currently wasted as heat. Motor generators built into the aircraft’s landing gear could capture this energy and convert it into¬† electricity, which would then be stored and supplied to the in-hub motors in the wheels when it needed to taxi. Those in the air cargo industry were initially sceptical, but the feasibility of this method has been confirmed by an an engineering team from the University of Lincoln with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) has made ‘engine-less taxiing’ one of the key objectives beyond 2020 for the European aviation industry. Before this theory can become a reality, several technical challenges must be overcome. Weight is the obvious problem, so engineers will have to devise a way of minimising the number of conductors and electronic power converters used in such a system. Scientists and engineers are continuing to work on this promising theory, so the air freight industry could be looking at a far greener future.

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