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26 August, 2021 - 10:16 By Tony Quested

Cambridge team creates simulator to accelerate net zero flights

Cambridge University has launched the Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA) – an international group of experts in aerospace, economics, policy, and climate science – building an interactive evidence-based simulator that allows exploration of scenarios for achieving net zero flight.

The simulator will capture the whole aviation sector, from the sources of renewable electricity and raw materials to the production and transport of fuel, and the introduction of new aircraft technologies and operations. Leaders in industry and government will gain an understanding of the potential for change and the trade-offs between decisions.

The hope is that the simulator will guide innovation, investment, and policy action, as well as providing wider educational benefits to the public.

The Aviation Impact Accelerator is led by Cambridge University’s Whittle Laboratory and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and includes a team of multidisciplinary experts from across the University together with the Air Transportation Systems Lab at University College London, and the Melbourne Energy Institute at the University of Melbourne. The AIA is in partnership with HRH The Prince of Wales’s Sustainable Markets Initiative, The World Economic Forum, Cambridge Zero, MathWorks, and SATAVIA, and is supported by industry advisors Rolls-Royce, Boeing, BP, Heathrow, and Siemens Energy.

Professor Rob Miller, Director, Whittle Laboratory and co-lead of the project said: “Achieving an aviation sector with no climate impact is one of society’s biggest challenges. Solving it will require a complex combination of technology, business, human behaviour, and policy. We have assembled a world class team of academics and industry experts to take on this challenge.”

Through an intuitive interface, users can simulate future scenarios to 2050 and calculate the resource requirements, such as renewable electricity and land use, the climate impact, both CO₂ and non-CO₂, and the cost of flying. Options in the simulator include the type of energy used, such as hydrogen, batteries, and a range of sustainable aviation fuels, the type of aircraft and aircraft technologies, the way in which aircraft are operated, and the value judgments made by the public and government.

The simulator will take a whole system approach, from the source of the electricity, to the methods of fuel production and transport, to the passenger journey.

The simulator was conceived in early 2020 at a roundtable hosted by The Prince of Wales and attended by senior industry leaders, government and academia. SATAVIA’s contribution will focus on aviation’s indirect climate impacts, and specifically the impacts generated by aircraft contrails.

While direct engine emissions account for around 30 per cent of aviation’s climate impact, contrails formed by aircraft at cruise account for up to 60 per cent of aviation’s climate impact (or two per cent of all human climate impact). Building on its world-leading contrail modelling capacity, SATAVIA’s science team will work alongside AIA personnel to clarify the links between contrail formation and other factors such as fuel type.

Dr Adam Durant, CEO and founder of SATAVIA said: “SATAVIA's collaboration with the Aviation Impact Accelerator will analyse aviation's non-CO₂ climate impacts over the full range of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) types.

“By combining our world-leading contrail modelling with AIA's ground-breaking whole-systems view of SAF and aviation's climate impact, we will generate timely insight to inform the industry’s sustainability strategy.”

The official launch of the Aviation Impact Accelerator will take place at COP26 in November, 2021.
 

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