(CNN) – Greener commercial flight technology may be on the horizon.
NASA and Boeing will work together as part of the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project to build, test and fly an emissions-reducing single-aisle aircraft in this decade, according to an agency announcement Wednesday.
“NASA has been involved with flying since the beginning. NASA dared to fly further, faster and higher. And in the process, NASA has made aviation more sustainable and reliable. It’s in our DNA,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
“It is our goal that NASA’s partnership with Boeing to manufacture and test a full-scale demonstrator will help future commercial aircraft be more fuel-efficient, with benefits for the environment, the commercial airline industry and passengers worldwide.” If we are successful, we may see these technologies in airplanes that the public will take to the skies in the 2030s.”
WEF’s Lauren Uppink Calderwood speaks about the Clean Skies For Tomorrow coalition, which has committed to replacing 10% of the world’s jet fuel supply with sustainable jet fuel by 2030.
The first test flight of this experimental aircraft is set should take place in 2028. The goal is for the technology to serve about 50% of the commercial market through short- and medium-haul single-aisle aircraft, Nelson said.
Airlines largely rely on single-aisle aircraft, which, according to NASA, account for almost half of the world’s aviation emissions. Developing new technologies to reduce fuel burn can support the Biden administration’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions from aviation by 2050, as set out in the US Aviation Climate Action Plan.
Boeing estimates that demand for the new single-aisle aircraft will increase by 40,000 aircraft between 2035 and 2050.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson holds a model of an aircraft with a transonic truss-braced wing.
The design, which NASA and Boeing are working on, could reduce fuel burn and emissions by up to 30% compared to today’s most efficient planes, according to the agency.
It’s called the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept, which relies on elongated, thin wings stabilized by diagonal struts connecting the wings to the aircraft. The shape of the design creates less drag, which means less fuel is used.
The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator will also integrate other green aviation technologies.
CNN’s Pete Muntean reports on United Airlines’ first successful flight using 100 percent sustainable fuel.
“NASA is working toward an ambitious goal of developing breakthrough technologies to reduce aviation’s energy use and emissions over the coming decades in order to meet the aviation community’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.” , said Bob Pearce, NASA’s deputy administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, in a statement.
“The Transonic Truss-Braced Wing is the kind of transformative concept and investment we need to meet these challenges and, crucially, the technologies demonstrated in this project have a clear and viable path to enable the next generation of single aisle aircraft and to benefit everyone who uses the air transport system.”
The benefits of increasing the wing’s aspect ratio have long been known, but the challenge of structuring the design has required advances in materials and construction to reach this evolutionary point, Pearce said.
By partnering on the project, NASA and Boeing can take more risks than the airline industry his own, he said.
“This is an experimental aircraft,” he said. “This is not a commercial development of an aircraft that passengers will fly in today. And the reason we need to do this is because it’s a high-risk technology. We’re trying to validate the technology.”
The partnership, supported by the Funded Space Act Agreement, will draw on seven years of technical expertise and facilities and $425 million from NASA. Meanwhile, Boeing and its partners will contribute the remaining $725 million and the technical plan.
“We are honored to continue our partnership with NASA and demonstrate technology that significantly improves aerodynamic efficiency, resulting in significantly reduced fuel economy and emissions,” said Todd Citron, Boeing’s chief technology officer.
The aviation sector is preparing to increase the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) from cooking oil, clothing, emissions from steel production and other renewable sources.
Top photo: An artist’s concept shows commercial aircraft with NASA’s Transonic Truss-Braced Wing configuration and Boeing’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project.