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NREL highlights sustainable aviation partnerships on National Aviation Day 2023

NREL highlights sustainable aviation partnerships on National Aviation Day 2023
An NREL study examines the regional variables associated with deploying sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), pictured above (photo courtesy Chicago O’Hare International Airport).

August 19 marks the birthday of Orville Wright, an American inventor credited for flying the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane in 1903. Marking the occasion on National Aviation Day 2023, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) celebrates the partnerships working to bring sustainability to the skies—past, present, and future.

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The aviation industry has seen countless advancements in the 120 years since Wright’s famous 12-second flight.

According to Brett Oakleaf, Strategic Partnership Manager leading the NREL’s sustainable aviation collaborations, the NREL is just getting started.

Our partnerships across the sustainable aviation ecosystem are an essential piece of NREL’s strategy to provide solutions that can achieve deep decarbonization. There is so much more we can do. We need to hear from new stakeholders, collaborate with industry leaders, and work across federal agencies to address and coordinate on the challenges ahead, Brett Oakleaf said.

Marking National Aviation Day 2023, NREL highlights a few of its partnerships across the sustainable aviation ecosystem.

US Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) – Clearing the Runway for Sustainable Aviation Fuels

NREL researchers performed a regional analysis of Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to determine that sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) could be viable and environmentally friendly choice for the global transportation hub.

The study, funded by BETO, examined variables including regional feedstock availability, infrastructure compatibility, policies, cost of SAF production, and other important factors.

The analysis can be adapted to other regions to help airports across the country develop their own tailored strategies for incorporating SAF.

In addition, researchers from NREL, the University of Puerto Rico, North Carolina State University, and Fearless Fund have an idea to turn seaweed and wood waste into SAF and graphite, a material used in electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

BETO is funding the partnership, which aims to adapt biological conversion and graphitization technologies to harness an estimated 1.24 million dry tonnes of sargassum that can be collected from populated coastlines annually.

Blended at 25 percent with wood waste, that supply chain could yield up to 78 million (US) gallons (≈ 295 million litres) of SAF and 61 000 tonnes of graphite every year.

Colorado Division of Aeronautics – Developing a Flight Plan for Sustainable Aviation Technologies

The Colorado Division of Aeronautics is partnering with NREL to study future opportunities and potential challenges posed by the introduction of alternatively powered aircraft in Colorado.

The study can help Colorado effectively leverage the benefits of the latest advancements in aviation technology. Results will inform planning efforts for necessary investments in Colorado’s airport infrastructure, increased utility demand, policy and regulatory considerations, and future funding implications.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) – Booking a One-Way Flight to the Future of Sustainable Airports

NREL researchers recently developed a simulation-based optimization modeling framework to help DFW transportation operators design effective electric bus deployment strategies.

The advanced computing-based model analyzed real-world conditions and simulated the existing DFW system to determine optimal battery capacity, charging power, and number of charging stations while minimizing capital cost and emissions.

A new modeling framework may help Dallas Fort Worth International Airport—and others in the future—design electric bus deployment strategies (photo courtesy DFW Airport).

Another NREL analysis considered how to tie sustainability into how people move through airports—from going through security to accessing different terminals.

One strategy for improving DFW’s energy savings uses digital wayfinding technologies to help travelers and employees move through the nation’s second-busiest airport more efficiently and equitably.

Researchers continue to help DFW with its energy efficiency goals through local and Department of Energy-funded efforts to optimize buildings and plan for changing vehicle demographics at airports, including rental car fleets.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – Securing Sustainable Aviation Technology in Cyberspace

To help protect infrastructure as airports embrace electrification, NREL researchers partnered with the FAA to review the cybersecurity needs of electric aviation.

The review evaluates how stakeholders like airlines, utilities, equipment suppliers, and regulators can implement a cybersecurity approach. It also identifies common methods to secure infrastructure early in the design and procurement process.

Department of Defense (DOD) AFWERX – Preparing Electrified Aircraft for Takeoff  

A partnership between NREL and the Air Force’s AFWERX division aims to help develop electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technologies.

NREL is supporting the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime project, which engages the rising eVTOL industry in the United States (photo courtesy Joby Aviation).

The partnership is centered on developing electric and hybrid electric aircraft technologies that can assist Air Force missions and operations, including common needs like moving supplies or transporting people hundreds of miles.

NREL provides its sustainable aviation expertise and experience studying the techno-economic, environmental, and security aspects of new technologies to support and validate project concepts and develop analysis tools.

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