Biofuels may be the best bet for reaching “jet zero,” the term the aviation industry uses for eliminating carbon emissions, but sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) isn’t the only path forward as the aviation industry races to go green by 2050.
“We know it will take a ‘SAF and’ approach and not a ‘SAF or’ approach to achieving net-zero by 2050,” says Boeing Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Raymond.
Aircraft builders are experimenting with a number of measures to reduce emissions, including developing more aerodynamic designs, swapping jet engines for electric engines, and substituting liquid hydrogen for jet fuel.
Here are seven aircraft, including one that is actually flying, with plans to help fast-track sustainability in aviation.
Airbus Blended Wing Maveric
Airbus is on a mission to develop the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035. The company’s blended-wing Maveric concept envisions seating up to 200 people using a hydrogen-powered aircraft that could fly an estimated 2,500 nautical miles.
The blended-wing-body aircraft features wings that merge with the main body of the plane to create an exceptionally wide fuselage. Its unconventional design stores the liquid hydrogen tanks beneath the wings, while two hybrid-hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust.
Boeing Future Flight Demonstrators
Boeing is working with NASA to create a Sustainable Flight Demonstrator, with long, skinny wings that extend from the top, rather than the bottom, of the plane’s fuselage. The aircraft will have an engine under each wing—and a T-shaped tail in the rear. NASA says the design creates less drag which, along with expected advancements in propulsion systems and materials, could potentially reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30 percent compared with today’s most efficient single-aisle aircraft. The first test flight is scheduled for 2028.
The Flying V is an experimental aircraft that promises 20-percent greater fuel efficiency over more conventional commercial jetliners like the Airbus 350. But it could be carbon-free if the concept incorporates hydrogen fuel cells, which is part of the long-term plan. The concept, which can hold about 315 passengers, is a collaboration led by specialists at Delft Technical University (TU Delft) Aerospace Engineering department in the Netherlands, with Airbus and KLM Airlines. The university tested a scaled, 10-foot model in Germany in 2020 and is now moving towards completion and testing of a larger, more detailed version. The final aircraft will eventually have a 214-foot wingspan.
Airbus ZeroE Turbofan
As part of the company’s goal to deliver a hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035, the Airbus Turbofan uses a pair of hybrid-hydrogen turbofan engines that provide thrust. The liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system is located behind the rear pressure bulkhead. The design can theoretically accommodate between 120 and 200 passengers, with a range of 2,000 nautical miles for transcontinental travel.
Eviation Alice Executive Jet
Eviation Aircraft launched the world’s first all-electric passenger aircraft in a test flight last year. The nine-passenger Alice traveled at 3,500 feet for its eight-minute inaugural flight to and from Washington’s Grant County International Airport. The electric aircraft can fly for up to two hours at a range of 250 nautical miles, enough to travel from Detroit to Buffalo, or St. Louis to Kansas City. An executive design seats six people, plus crew. Eviation is targeting 2025 for certification and first aircraft deliveries to customers by 2027.
Embraer Energia Electric
Slated to launch in 2035, the nine-seat, short-range Embraer Energia Electric is an all-electric aircraft with a 200-mile range. The Brazilian aircraft builder has already set a goal to make all of its aircraft 100 percent SAF compatible by 2030, but it’s pushing ahead with battery-electric jets like the Energia Electric, as well as several hybrid models. The Energia Electric features a single electric engine at the rear, as well as a wide glider-inspired wing and a single, counter-rotating prop. The company said that the design could reduce noise by 80 percent and that quick-change batteries in the nose would speed turnaround times.
This new 44-passenger electric airplane, also connected to the TU Delft aerospace program, is a collboration between aerospace experts from all over the world, including commercial air providers that have reserved 20 units. The game-changer for this concept is its dedicated charging system called Maeve reCharge, a single module that can recharge the aircraft in only 35 minutes. That means Maeve aircraft can be ready for the next flight in about the same time it takes to refuel a conventional aircraft. Maeve 01’s range is about 250 miles, which allows it to pair multiple cities all over the world. The company expects to begin testing in the next five years, with commercial operations starting by 2030.