Boeing, NASA, United Airlines to test SAF benefits with air-to-air flights
In a collaboration to strengthen sustainability in aviation, Boeing announced Oct. 12 that it is partnering with NASA and United Airlines for in-flight testing to measure how sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) affects contrails and noncarbon emissions, in addition to reducing the fuel’s lifecycle climate impact.
Boeing’s second ecoDemonstrator Explorer, a 737-10 destined for United Airlines, will fly with 100 percent SAF and conventional jet fuel in separate tanks and alternate fuels during testing.
NASA’s DC-8 Airborne Science Lab will fly behind the commercial jet and measure emissions produced by each type of fuel and contrail ice particles.
NASA satellites will capture images of contrail formation as part of the testing.
The researchers aim to understand how advanced fuels, engine-combustor designs and other technologies may reduce atmospheric warming.
For example, tests will assess how SAF affects the characteristics of contrails, the persistent condensation trails produced when airplanes fly through cold, humid air.
While their full impact is not yet understood, some research has suggested certain contrails can trap heat in the atmosphere.
World Energy is supplying SAF for the tests from its Paramount, California, facility.
Additional support includes:
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is providing funding through the ASCENT Center of Excellence
GE Aerospace is providing technical expertise and project funding
German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt or DLR) is providing experts and instrumentation
The project is the latest phase in a multiyear partnership between Boeing and NASA to analyze how SAF can reduce emissions and enable other environmental benefits.
Compared to conventional jet fuel, SAF—made from a range of sustainably produced feedstocks—can reduce emissions by up to 85 percent over the fuel’s lifecycle and offers the greatest potential to reduce aviation CO2 over the next 30 years.
SAF also produces less soot, which can improve air quality near airports.
“We are honored to collaborate with NASA, United Airlines and other valued partners on research that will strengthen the industry’s understanding of the benefits of SAF beyond reducing carbon emissions,” said Chris Raymond, Boeing’s chief sustainability officer. “We’ve solved hard problems before, and if we continue to take meaningful actions, I’m confident we’ll achieve a more sustainable aerospace future, together.”
Rich Wahls with NASA added, “Flight testing is complex and resource intensive, yet it’s the gold standard for understanding how sustainable aerospace innovations affect changes in contrails and climate. This is why we’re bringing NASA’s DC-8 to bear on this collaboration, where the valuable flight data will improve our predictive models.”
Markus Fischer, DLR divisional board member for aeronautics, said, “To achieve climate-compatible aviation, we need close international cooperation. The German Aerospace Center has decades of experience in research on the climate impact of the entire aviation system by advancing measurement technology and simulations. The continuation of transatlantic cooperation now finds a new summit and underlines the international commitment to reduce the climate impact from aviation’s CO2 and non-CO2 effects.”
Boeing has committed to deliver commercial airplanes compatible with 100 percent SAF by 2030.
The 737-10 is the largest airplane in Boeing’s single-aisle 737 Max family, which reduces fuel use and emissions by 20 percent compared to airplanes it replaces.