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Are Composite Planes the Future?

February 5th, 2015

Many industries are looking for ways to improve their carbon footprints, and the world of aviation is no exception. Lighter aircraft, leveraging composite materials, is one way aeronautic engineers are helping the environment through their innovative research. One study predicts that if the world’s entire stock of aircraft used composite materials, it would reduce carbon emissions by a factor of 15 percent.

Let’s take a closer look at how some engineers are researching the use of composites in aircraft design to save fuel and ultimately reduce carbon.

British Universities study Life Cycle of Composite Airplanes

That 15 percent reduction in carbon emissions noted above comes from the results of a study conducted by the UK-based Universities of Sheffield, Cambridge and University College London. Researchers analyzed data from a comprehensive life cycle assessment of composite aircraft, including the Boeing Dreamliner 787 and Airbus 350. This data was then extrapolated to take into account a worldwide fleet.

The original assessment covered everything from a plane’s manufacture through its normal usage period, and finally its disposal. The study-derived data was compared to standard aluminum-based aircraft models. While emissions are higher for composite planes during their construction, this is more than made up by their 20 percent fewer carbon emissions during flight compared to aluminum planes.

Professor in Advanced Materials Technologies at the University of Sheffield, Alma Hodzic, commented on their findings. “This study shows that the fuel consumption savings with composites far outweigh the increased environmental impact from their manufacture. Despite ongoing debates within the industry, the environmental and financial savings from composites mean that these materials offer a much better solution,” said Hodzic.

The aircraft industry as a whole hopes to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by the end of this decade. The use of aircraft created with composite materials is one of the methods that will help achieve this goal.

If innovations in aircraft design inspire you to further your career in the world of aviation, talk to the experts at The Talley Group. As one of the top engineering staffing companies in Washington State, we remain a great source for Seattle aeronautic engineering jobs. Schedule some time with us today!

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