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Sustainability and Circularity: The long-haul flight for the Aerospace Industry



Written by Aditya Singh,


Globally, the aerospace industry continues to be a strong driver of mobility, economic growth, jobs, and trade. At the same time, the industry is one of many that has a heavy impact on global emissions as beyond CO2, aircraft have an impact on global warming through the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The environmental challenges faced by the sector are staggering, with statistics showing that aviation accounts for approximately 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.     

While decarbonization is important, implementing economically feasible and scalable solutions can be an uphill task. Some of the more significant challenges for the aerospace industry to achieve 2050 emission reduction targets include technical feasibility and financial viability of new technologies and solutions, scalability of production and infrastructural challenges, measurement of the environmental and economic impact of sustainability initiatives, and regulatory support possibly in the form of incentives.


 

Climate change poses significant challenges for the aerospace industry, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The sector has a crucial role to play in combating climate change for its survival. A recent example is the turbulence experienced by Singapore Airlines due to hitting an air pocket, one of the reasons for which is climate change-induced weather fluctuations. These altered air patterns, which are increasingly hard to predict, highlight the environmental challenges confronting the aerospace industry. Additionally, as ground temperatures in Indian summers soar above 50°C, aircraft require more power for lift-off due to altered wind shear forces. This increases fuel consumption and operational costs, underscoring the urgent need for sustainable practices and innovations in the aerospace industry. 


Such instances highlight the urgency for sustainable transformation within the sector. To some extent, A&D players answered the call. By improving their operations — including optimized routes, enhanced air traffic management and efficient flight and ground operations — the sector can cut flight emissions by about 11%. But that’s just scratching the surface of innovation: 

  • Alternative fuels could slash 55% of emissions and fully eliminate net CO2 emissions. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) — often made from plant materials like cooking oil and agricultural waste — can deliver the performance of petroleum-based jet fuel (but at a higher price point currently).  

  • Aircraft design and propulsion innovation could cut an estimated 21% of flight emissions. Alternatives to the current tube-and-wing design, along with electric and hydrogen propulsion, are being used in short-haul flights, with plans to implement these solutions across long haul by 2040. 


Significance of Sustainability and Circularity in Mitigating Climate Change: 

Sustainability in the aerospace industry extends beyond reducing carbon emissions to encompass noise pollution reduction, enhancing safety standards, and increasing the use of renewable energy sources.  

Circularity in aerospace involves designing, manufacturing, and operating aircraft in a manner that maximizes resource efficiency, minimizes waste, and extends product lifecycles. It involves applying the concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover to aerospace materials, components, and systems. For example, aerospace engineers can use lightweight and biodegradable materials, design for disassembly and repair, implement closed-loop recycling systems, and recover energy and materials from end-of-life products.   

Circularity and sustainability are closely related and mutually supportive in aerospace manufacturing, focusing on maximizing resource efficiency, minimizing waste, and extending product lifecycles, complements the broader goals to reduce the overall environmental footprint of aerospace operations. 


Significance of Simulations for sustainability and circularity in aerospace:

Simulations are indispensable throughout the aerospace lifecycle, enhancing efficiency, safety, and sustainability at every stage. In the design phase, they allow engineers to optimize aerodynamics, structural integrity, and performance, significantly enhancing the product design. As the design progresses to certification, simulations rigorously test and ensure compliance with safety and regulatory standards. It also provides regulatory authorities with the necessary tools to develop and enforce stringent standards, thereby guaranteeing robust and reliable aircraft.  

During production, these simulations streamline manufacturing processes and improve quality control, while also predicting maintenance needs to ensure smooth operations. Finally, at the end of an aircraft's life, simulations assist in recycling and repurposing materials, promoting sustainability and circularity. 

As technology becomes more complex, these simulations also grow increasingly intricate, often taking days to run due to computational power being a bottleneck. This highlights the pressing need for more efficient methods to conduct complex simulations, ensuring that the benefits of simulation can be fully realized without excessive delays. 


Key Initiatives by Aerospace Industry to achieve Sustainability targets

  1. Innovative aircraft design  Innovative aircraft design significantly contributes to lightweighting, maintenance, and operations, enhancing sustainability and circularity in the aerospace industry. Advanced materials and optimized structures reduce weight, improving fuel efficiency and lowering emissions. Simulations play a crucial role, allowing engineers to test and refine designs virtually, minimizing physical prototypes, cost and time.  Design innovation streamlines maintenance, extends aircraft lifecycles, and supports resource-efficient manufacturing processes.

  2. New propulsion technologies  Electric/Hybrid-Electric Propulsion: This rapidly evolving technology includes hybrid aircraft, which use both fuel and electric batteries, and fully electric aircraft. Leveraging advancements in the automotive industry, these systems use batteries to power electric motors that spin propellers or ducted fans, generating thrust. This technology holds a long-term promise for reducing emissions and improving fuel efficiency.  Hydrogen Propulsion: Hydrogen can power aircraft in two main ways: through fuel cells that generate electricity for electric motors or by combustion in modified jet engines. Hydrogen propulsion could significantly reduce the climate impact by eliminating carbon emissions on medium- and long-haul flights. It could become a crucial link between renewable energy sources and energy-intensive industries like aviation, paving the way for a more sustainable future.  The bottlenecks for developing propulsion technologies include high costs, complex engineering challenges, and safety concerns. Advanced simulations can help overcome these hurdles by enabling virtual testing and optimization, reducing development time and costs while ensuring safety and performance.

  3. Sustainable aviation fuels  Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are produced from sustainable feedstocks and are very similar in their chemistry to traditional fossil jet fuel. Bigger aircraft and longer flights require more energy, and SAFs are emerging as a viable alternative to fossil fuels because they are among the most measurable solutions to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions.  There are two types of SAFs currently available; one option is bio-SAFs made from feedstocks ranging from plants to used cooking oil, municipal waste, and household waste. Typical feedstocks used are cooking oil and other non-palm waste oils from animals or plants, as well as solid waste from homes and businesses, such as packaging, paper, textiles, and food scraps that would otherwise go to landfill or incineration. Other potential sources include forestry waste, such as waste wood, and energy crops, including fast-growing plants and algae.  

  4. Efficient air traffic management (ATM)  Modernizing the management of airspace to establish more efficient flight paths (direct routes and less energy used) remains one of the key solutions to reduce energy use and emissions. Upgrading the regulatory framework to reduce fragmentation of the airspace can help improve ATM performance in safety and capacity and cost efficiency and the environment. Policies such as avoiding congestion and suboptimal flight routes and promoting the market for data services needed for better ATM can help reduce aviation emissions.

BQP’s Advanced Simulation Stack for Aerospace & Defense Industries to help achieve sustainability 

BQP’s Advanced Simulation Stack for Aerospace & Defense Industries is a cutting-edge platform designed to help achieve sustainability goals. BQP is pioneering the development of quantum algorithms for performing advanced, computationally tough simulations that were previously unattainable with legacy simulation software. What sets BQP apart is its integration of novel quantum algorithms in the Optimization Solver, PDE Solver for CFD, and Machine Learning Solver. 

By harnessing the inherent parallelism and computational power of quantum computing, these algorithms enable faster and more accurate simulations of complex systems. Quantum algorithms running on today’s HPCs can tackle computationally intensive tasks with greater speed and scalability than classical algorithms, significantly reducing simulation times and resource requirements. 

This enhanced efficiency allows for more comprehensive exploration of design spaces, converging to Global Minima in fewer iterations, thereby optimizing engineering processes and rapid iteration of simulations to drive innovation and sustainability initiatives. 



What sets BQP apart is its integration of novel Quantum Inspired Evolutionary Approach (QIEA) for solving optimization, CFD and reducing trainable parameters for Machine Learning.  Various custom applications can be developed and seamlessly integrated with these solvers, addressing pressing problems crucial for sustainability 

 

  • Optimization Solver: For designing lightweight and aerodynamic structures to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. 

 

  • PDE Solver for CFD: Applied in the design of innovative propulsion engines and aerodynamic structures, heat shield and fault tolerance analysis  

 

  • Machine Learning Solver: For efficient traffic management, route optimization, by finding the most efficient flight paths. Defect detection and image processing are other use cases that can be built for ensuring higher quality and safety standards while minimizing waste and resource use. 

 

By streamlining complex simulations, we can accelerate design optimization, enhance safety and regulatory compliance, and improve production processes, all while reducing environmental impact. Efficient simulations enable more effective recycling and repurposing of materials, fostering a more sustainable lifecycle for aircraft. As we address computational bottlenecks and develop faster, more sophisticated simulation methods, the aerospace industry will be better equipped to meet the demands of modern aviation while promoting environmental stewardship and resource conservation. Ultimately, investing in efficient simulations is investing in a sustainable future for aerospace. 

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