Rethinking aircraft engines and new wing designs have the potential to cut carbon emissions and noise, as well as to boost Europe’s aerospace industry, according to Eric Dautriat, chief executive of the Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative (JTI).
What are the aims of the Clean Sky programme?
‘Clean Sky is primarily about reducing the environmental footprint of aviation. This mainly concerns carbon dioxide (CO2), noise and to some extent nitrogen oxide emissions. Europe’s long-term strategic research agenda is to reduce CO2 by 50 % compared to the year 2000, through technologies that will be made available for products by 2020. Clean Sky, or Clean Sky 1 as it is becoming known, continues until 2017 and aims to achieve a 25 to 30 % reduction in CO2 emissions, providing the link between early research and further development of products and equipment. We will take technologies to the highest level of research and provide “demonstrators” to check how they can be used, but it is up to industry to develop products for the market.’
What have been the main achievements of the Clean Sky 1 programme?
‘Very few areas of aircraft design are not addressed by Clean Sky. Most of the demonstrators are still to come, but we already have two new engine designs running on test benches on the ground. One is for large, wide-body aircraft. The other is a turboshaft engine for helicopters.
‘Another example is the open rotor, a new engine architecture for short- and medium-range aircraft in the range of 150 passengers. It removes the frame around the fan so it can be made bigger and more efficient. It looks something like a propeller, with two counter-rotating stages of blades, and a complex shape for acoustic and aerodynamic performance. We can expect a lot in terms of CO2 reduction when it is tested on the ground next year.
A prototype of the open rotor technology. Copyright: Eric Drouin/ Safran
‘The laminar wing is also important. Airflow around existing wings in flight is turbulent, producing drag and a resulting loss of performance. Eliminating turbulence to achieve smooth, or laminar, flow can significantly reduce the drag, fuel burn and thus CO2 output. But you need the right shapes, the right materials, the right structures and the right coatings. This demonstrator will be tested in-flight in 2016 on an Airbus A340.
‘Another target is improving environmental control systems feeding air into the cabin. We will demonstrate an electrical system to replace the current method of taking air from the engine compressors, with its complex temperature and pressure monitors. It will be flown next year on an Airbus A320 and an ATR 72 regional aircraft.’
How does Clean Sky innovation contribute to Europe’s competitiveness?
‘Aeronautics is one of the best sectors of excellence in Europe, but to keep it that way we have to keep innovating. I believe Clean Sky 1 will meet its environmental objectives, so we will have a new set for Clean Sky 2. While Clean Sky 1 did not specifically set competitiveness as a goal, in the new phase we will set improving the competitiveness of the industry as an essential objective, alongside the environmental targets. We want Europe to maintain or improve its competitive edge in this market, despite fierce global competition.
‘Clean Sky 2 is becoming the flagship programme for aviation research in Europe. It will be wider in scope and have more than double the funding. Up from EUR 800 million, it will have EUR 1.75 billion from the European Commission, which is more than matched by industry to reach a total of nearly EUR 4 billion until 2023.
‘Among these are demonstrators for fast rotor aircraft. We will test two architectures to allow such helicopters to fly near the speed of propeller planes.’
Eric Dautriat, chief executive of Clean Sky
‘Clean Sky 2 will help to achieve strategic research and innovation targets such as dividing emissions by four from the year 2000 level.’
What kinds of technology will Clean Sky 2 develop?
‘Among these are demonstrators for fast rotor aircraft. We will test two architectures to allow such helicopters to fly near the speed of propeller planes. These designs have slightly different target markets. We want a consistent set of greener technologies to power aircraft entering into service in the next decade.
‘Another proposal will look at hybrid propulsion, which combines electrical and thermal or “classical” propulsion, where we aim to show the capabilities and possible expectations for this area.’
Who are you expecting to participate in Clean Sky 2?
‘Of the 600 participants in Clean Sky 1, close to 40 % are small and medium enterprises, which are key to real innovation in such programmes. We expect more participants in Clean Sky 2. New participants will be large, medium and small business, research centres and universities – some as single entities, some as consortia, where necessary. We will welcome participation from those working in sectors other than aeronautics, in order to benefit from more innovation capabilities and proposals, where applicable.’
What are the benefits of a Joint Technology Initiative in meeting the environmental and competitiveness goals?
‘It provides a common overall approach, where the private side brings its strategy and the European Commission can set societal objectives, such as CO2 reductions, and contribute funding. This has worked very successfully so far.
‘As we approach the development phase in the advanced stages of research, we need to be very close to the strategic needs and market-based expectations of industry players who will use these technologies.
‘The way we manage the programme makes it very flexible, so we can modify a research plan if a particular technology turns out to be less promising than expected and when new ideas come up.
‘The joint approach has also provided a powerful set of tools for technology evaluation, managed by research organisations to assess the overall environmental benefits.’
Clean Sky is one of seven Joint Technology Initiatives set up by the European Commission to fund research by combining public and private financing. The aim of the Clean Sky programme is to reduce the environmental impacts of air travel by cutting carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and reducing noise pollution.
The first phase of the initiative was launched in 2008, and achieved an estimated reduction in aviation CO2 emissions by more than 20 % compared with emissions in 2000.
Clean Sky 2 will receive an estimated EUR 4 billion funding in total from the European Commission and industry partners. It will start in 2014 and support research until 2024. The initiative will launch its first calls under Horizon 2020 on 9 July 2014 at an event in Brussels.
We’re only at the start of the coronavirus pandemic although the second wave may take a different form to the first one, says veteran virologist Professor Peter Piot, who has spent the past 40 years tracking down and fighting viruses.
Some people’s immune systems contain pre-existing protection against coronavirus, indicating that they have encountered a similar infection to Covid-19 before, according to Dr Aleksandra Walczak, a physicist at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, France.
In our continuing search for other life in the universe, one place has always looked promising – Mars. It is a rocky planet like Earth, orbiting the same star, and at a distance where water could have been present on the planet.
Moving more goods by water could reduce pressure on roads and cut emissions, yet Europe’s shipping industry is held back by labour shortages. Automated shipping – which would work in a similar way to self-driving cars – could help expand capacity but safety and regulatory hurdles remain.
The red planet may be our best bet for finding out whether we’re alone in the universe.
Reducing crew numbers onboard ships could overcome labour shortages and increase shipping levels.
Metagenomics can help us spot emerging diseases such as coronavirus, says virologist Marion Koopmans.