Solar Impulse: The End of Jet Fuel Pollution?

July 6, 2016

With the recent success of Solar Impulse, it is vital that we take heed of this example. We should start using methods of sustainable air travel, and develop innovative ways in which humans can travel through the air without damaging the atmosphere. This article will show you how to travel in an environmentally-friendly way, and hopefully, inspire innovative projects like Solar Impulse to change the world and make it a better place.

What is Solar Impulse?

Solar Impulse is an experimental solar-powered aircraft produced in Switzerland which covers long distances leading the way to sustainable air travel. Bertrand Piccard (founder) and André Borschberg (co-founder and CEO), set out to achieve the first five-day flight across the world using only solar power in July 2015. They travelled from Japan to Hawaii for five consecutive days showcasing to the world how they can utilise modern technology without damaging the environment. They also broke the record for the longest solo flight without refuelling.

Piccard and Borschberg have announced that they will continue their 15 leg journey around the world which began last year. This paves the way for sustainable air travel and creates a revolutionary development in the progress of removing jet fuel pollution from the atmosphere.

What is the issue with jet fuel?

Aeroplanes have a high level of impact on greenhouse gas concentrations per passenger mile. Air travel can give an individual a remarkably large carbon footprint and, as flying costs become cheaper, they are more available to the public-worsening the situation.

However, the aviation industry argues that air travel only accounts for 1.5% – 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions.  On the other hand, it could be argued that as flights are more likely to be taken by wealthy individuals the share of carbon dioxide emissions is likely to be higher. On the other hand, the Department for Transport figures for 2005 in the UK estimates it to be around 6.3%.

Furthermore, Duncan Clark at the Guardian gives three reasons why jet fuel may actually contribute to more than 6.3% of global carbon dioxide emissions:

1. Global warming impact of each flight is thought to be twice as much as estimated carbon dioxide emissions

Analysing environmental impact from flying through carbon dioxide emissions alone is too reductionist. There is a multiplier effect of other outputs which aeroplanes produce such as nitrous oxide, water vapour and soot.

Flying at different altitudes also has an impact. Flying in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere produces a range of climatic effects which multiply the environmental impact. An illustration of this would be nitrous oxide, which causes the formation of ozone (a greenhouse gas) whilst simultaneously engaging in a destructive reaction with methane (another greenhouse gas). Most experts are in consensus that the multiplier effect is double the estimated carbon dioxide emissions.

2. The figures are skewed to favour British travellers

The standard procedure for allocating carbon dioxide emissions among countries utilising air travel is to distribute the miles travelled evenly between the country of departure and the country of destination. This method of calculating carbon dioxide emissions may be unfair to other countries as British passengers take up ⅔ of seats on aeroplanes flying to British airports.

3. The pollution caused by the aviation industry as a whole is catastrophic

There are numerous ways in which the aviation industry itself has high levels of carbon dioxide outside of aeroplane fight. Processing and transporting aviation fuel, manufacturing & maintenance of planes, airports and support vehicles, all add extra carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

What can I do to reduce my carbon dioxide emissions when flying?

After reading about Solar Impulse, it is difficult not to get inspired into finding new innovating ways in which people can travel sustainably. Here are a few pieces of advice mentioned by Just the Flight to help reduce that pesky carbon footprint!

1. Carbon offsetting

Websites such as Treeflights calculate how much carbon dioxide your flight will emit and will then pay for trees in which you subsidise to counter the carbon dioxide emissions your flight will produce. To put it into perspective, a flight from London to New York will cost around $15 in terms of tree-planting on Treeflights.

2. Travel with green airlines

Some airlines have embarked on green initiatives to either create awareness or to implement sustainable technology to their aircraft. In 2006, British Airways announced it was planning to upgrade its fleet to be more environmentally friendly.Spanish airline Iberia has also painted endangered species on newly-acquired aeroplanes to raise awareness. Additionally, in 2008, Virgin Atlantic managed to fly a Boeing 747 to Amsterdam from London using sustainable babassu and coconut oil.

3. Eco-holidays

There are numerous holiday destinations which are environmentally sustainable. In 2006, London-based World Travel Market gave Ol Malo Lodge and Trust in Kenya an award for its environmentally-friendly principles. Aspen in Colorado also won an award from the World Travel Market as being the best of its kind for developing a sustainable method of skiing.

Overall, Solar Impulse has inspired people to remember that the pollution caused by jet fuel emissions is catastrophic to the atmosphere. Hopefully, this article will have raised awareness of the issue at hand, and also given you the tools needed to fly in a sustainable way and to truly change the world by reducing your own carbon footprint!

Let us know how you travel in the comments!



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