Partnering for a sustainable aerospace future

Partnering for a sustainable aerospace future

Boeing’s Brian Moran, Vice President Global Sustainability Policy & Partnerships at Boeing, details the company’s intensified focus on sustainability

Environmental stewardship, social progress, inclusion and values-based transparent governance have always been important to Boeing, but recently we have accelerated our sustainability efforts.

“Chief” among these efforts has been appointing and empowering Chris Raymond as the company’s first Chief Sustainability Officer, an executive committee (ExCo) level leadership position dedicated to galvanising and advancing our environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities. We did so in the midst of a pandemic which continues to challenge society, industry and national economies. Then in January 2021, we announced our intent that all Boeing commercial aeroplanes will be capable and certified to fly on 100% sustainable aviation fuels by 2030. In the near future, we will release our inaugural annual Sustainability Report, the first time our technology, innovation, community and social leadership performance will be presented in chorus as one comprehensive record.

A few months ago, I was honoured to be asked to serve our stakeholders and company in a new capacity as leader for Boeing’s newly created Global Sustainability Policy and Partnerships team. In this new role, my aim is to partner with colleagues to build on and strengthen our company focus on sustainability outside the United States by identifying and responding to global sustainability trends, informing emerging regulations and creating innovative partnerships that advance our environmental stewardship efforts.

Safe, reliable, efficient and cost-effective air transport is an essential component of a broader mobility strategy to help achieve the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The global aviation sector has an important contribution to make to many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As an economic engine, in normal prepandemic circumstances, air transport supported 87.7 million jobs worldwide and $991 billion in European economic activity ($3.5 trillion globally) in 2018, which was 3.6% of all employment and 4.4% of all GDP in European countries in that year (Source: ATAG).

As our company continues to adapt to the impact of the global pandemic, transform our operations for the recovery and rebuild stakeholder trust, we are creating a future for our business and industry that is safe and sustainable. Sustainability at Boeing is as much about what we do as how we do it. Over the past months, our sustainability team has built a strong foundation for a transparent, integrated and data-driven ESG sustainability strategy and resulting plan of action.

Our data

EUROCONTROL Data Snapshot #3 on manufacturer share of flights in Europe

We recognize the need to decarbonize aerospace for sustained long-term growth. Safe and sustainable aerospace is nonnegotiable to us or our stakeholders. The world will continue to fly and rightly so. There were 4.5 billion passengers that flew in 2019 and ATAG estimates that number will reach 10 billion a year by 2050. The aerospace industry can continue to grow but we must get to net zero carbon flights. Boeing is at the forefront of this journey. Our people around the globe and partnerships in our local communities are fundamental to this success. Below I describe our efforts that will allow our industry sector to decarbonise while ensuring the human connectivity, societal and economic benefits that come from aerospace are available to people everywhere.

Our operations

Decarbonising aviation begins at our manufacturing facilities and worksites. Boeing has bold goals to further reduce companywide greenhouse gas emissions from our operations by 2025. To that end, in 2019 we made strides in securing more renewable energy to power operations, building on our strong track record. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is changing the way we design and build lighter products with fewer raw materials, creating less waste and improving fuel efficiency. Innovative materials and processes are improving product efficiency in several ways.

Boeing’s product designs enable disassembly of parts and materials recovery resulting in aeroplanes that are nearly 90% recyclable by weight for parts reuse and scrap.

The company achieved net-zero emissions at manufacturing and worksites in 2020 by expanding conservation and renewable energy use while tapping responsible offsets for the remaining greenhouse gas emissions. New renewable energy procurements reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in 2020 to significantly lower environmental impact. In support of our global sustainable manufacturing efforts, Boeing works with UK-based ELG Carbon Fibre Ltd to recycle excess carbon fibre material from the aeroplane assembly process.

"Boeing has bold goals to further reduce company-wide greenhouse gas emissions from our operations by 2025. The company achieved net-zero emissions at manufacturing and worksites in 2020.”

This first-of-its-kind partnership prevents about one million pounds (453.6 tonnes) of waste a year from going to landfills. The renewed carbon fibre is used by manufacturers to make computer laptop cases, automobile parts and other products. These efforts are rapidly developing into a scalable supply chain.

Our products and services

Boeing's commitment to energy-efficient and cleaner products supports the aviation sector’s global commitment to carbon neutral growth from 2020 and approaching net-zero emissions around the middle of the century. When it comes to shaping the future of sustainable air travel, we know that decarbonising aviation and enabling people to fly safely and sustainably will require different solutions tailored to needs, capabilities and constraints of different regions and markets.

"Boeing is focused on a portfolio of solutions that encompasses airline fleet replacement, network operational efficiency, transition to renewable energy and advanced technology."

Airline fleet replacement

Boeing and the aviation industry have always made it our mission to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases through innovation. It’s in our DNA to make flying more economical for airlines, affordable for more travellers and better for the environment. The company has invested more than $60 billion over the last 10 years in key strategic areas including innovative technologies such as digital manufacturing, carbon composite materials, advanced high bypass-ratio engine designs and other aerodynamic improvements such as natural laminar flow that reduces drag to improve environmental efficiency.

As we continue to accelerate our focus on developing future technologies, the next generation of aircraft will incorporate the latest digital design, test and production tools, airframe, propulsion and systems technology, and different power solutions for different market segments and aircraft sizes. These latest commercial aircraft are 80% more fuel-efficient than the first generation of jet aircraft, and each new generation of aeroplanes reduces fuel use and emissions by 15 to 25%.

Network operational efficiency

The aviation industry continues to collaborate on how to operate and fly more efficiently, which collectively can reduce emissions by nearly 12% (Source: EUROCONTROL). Boeing works with airlines, government customers, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and airports on efficiency improvements.

A tangible place where this type of collaboration comes to life today is the Boeing Global Services Digital Solutions and Analytics site in Frankfurt, Germany. This innovation hub features a digital laboratory with demonstrators and simulators including an Airline Operation Center (AOC), Boeing 787 cabin demonstrator and 787 flight simulator, an indoor drone test fly range and a Reduced Crew Operation (RCO) cockpit, where customers and visitors can learn about and experience innovative digital solutions for the future of civil aviation.

Renewable energy transition and advanced technology

Another important lever at our disposal is the use of renewable energy, which is crucial for aviation to reduce carbon emissions. Here, different solutions make sense for different markets and different aeroplane sizes and missions. Renewable energy can include sustainable aviation fuels, but also green hydrogen or electric propulsion, and Boeing has a wealth of experience with all of them.

For example, we have established a joint venture called Wisk that is building and certifying an autonomous battery-electric aircraft for use in urban environments and very short-range missions, which not only has zero carbon emissions but also radically reduces noise pollution relative to helicopters. Battery-electric aircraft are intriguing and can be configured to support unique missions, but they’re fundamentally limited to very few passengers and short ranges. Last year, Wisk and the New Zealand government announced a trial to advance autonomous passenger transport. Wisk is nearing completion of the planning phase for the trial and will be bringing our subsidiary Insitu Pacific into the programme to support the trial. Implementation, which is the next phase of the trial, is expected to begin later this year.

Boeing has also innovated with hydrogen, green hydrogen (created using renewable energy) and fuel cell applications for over 15 years. We have developed learnings and insights through four separate flight demonstration programmes with crewed and uncrewed aircraft using hydrogen fuel cells and combustion. We also have decades of hydrogen insights from our space programmes. These programmes, alongside our latest research, are informing future studies and partnerships. While these technology demonstrators and space applications are helpful to understand the underlying technology, there are still large science and engineering leaps required to mature these systems to work reliably, robustly and safely in a commercial aircraft environment.

"We see scaling the production and use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) as the most direct way to make substantial reductions in net carbon emissions for aviation in the near term."

The aviation community needs to develop the commercial aircraft propulsion technology itself, the integrated aeroplane design and fuel systems and the supporting system infrastructure for production, storage, handling and delivery. All this innovation must ultimately meet or exceed today’s high safety threshold and we will have to support and answer to regulators as they develop the new certification criteria. While we are encouraged by the investments going into this area, these considerations and the production of sufficient green hydrogen supplies will govern the pace of adoption, market penetration of fully hydrogen-powered airplanes and ultimately the net emissions reduction, placing hydrogen on a longer timeline.

As we mature these advanced technologies for mid- to longterm applications on select missions, we see scaling the production and use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) as the most direct way to make substantial reductions in net carbon emissions for aviation in the near term. SAF is proven, in use and widely recognised as offering the most immediate and largest potential to decarbonise flying over the next 20 to 30 years as a drop-in ready solution. It is not a silver bullet, but SAF is certainly a catalyst to decarbonising flight and achieving net zero climate goals.

Boeing has been a pioneer in making sustainable aviation fuels a reality, partnering globally with airlines, industry, governments and research institutions to expand limited supplies and reduce the cost. We worked with airlines, engine manufacturers and others to conduct biofuel test flights starting in 2008 and gain approval for commercial use in 2011. In 2018, the Boeing ecoDemonstrator flight test programme made the world’s first commercial aeroplane flight using 100% sustainable fuels with a 777 Freighter, in collaboration with FedEx Express. The company plans to work with regulatory authorities and across the industry to raise the current 50% blending limit for expanded use of SAF.

Since 2012, the ecoDemonstrator programme has accelerated innovation by taking nearly 200 promising technologies out of the lab and testing them in the air to address real-world challenges for the aviation industry, the environment and the passenger experience. ecoDemonstrator test flights are flown on a blend of petroleum and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which reduces life-cycle CO2 emissions by up to 80%.

Despite all this progress, there remain challenges in scaling the use of SAF in aviation. As with many innovations that cross a valley from being technically feasible to commercially viable, SAF requires a framework that promotes further technology development, increases the supply and stimulates demand. Through various forms of incentives and public-private partnerships, SAF production can increase by ensuring that more technologies reach commercial scale.

Aviation Sustainability Briefing

Aviation Sustainability Briefing

News and views on how we can make aviation sustainable together.

Regulators play an important role in providing a clear path to scaled commercialisation. Policy is a key instrument for incentivising SAF production because it reduces perceived risk for prospective investors. More specifically, an incentivebased approach would create stable production and, as a result, market demand as the industry continues to innovate. Furthermore, this can enable end users to make purchase commitments at prices approaching conventional fuel.

In our view, regulatory schemes that allow fuel producers to receive credits which are monetised based on fuel carbon intensity can send a positive market signal and create additional production capacity demand. A range of regulations are being implemented across the globe that offer effective mechanisms to support SAF market uptake using market-based mechanisms that allow providers to choose how they will reduce emissions while responding to consumer demand, such as the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation in the UK, the Dutch Bioticket programme, Brazil’s RenovaBio or the Low Carbon Fuel Standard in California.

When considering the scaling of SAF supply, it is vital to ensure the environmental integrity of the feedstock supply. This is why we support and rely on third-party sustainability standards to enable a diverse and sustainable feedstock supply such as the 12 Principles of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials.

As part of our global policy and partnership mission, we look forward to continuing our contribution to advancing the use of SAF in Europe; the upcoming release of the ReFuelEU Aviation regulation will be an important platform to further engage on the aforementioned opportunities and we look forward to working with our local partners to facilitate the growth of SAF.

Achieving an energy transition in air transport will require continued collaboration between industry, government, academia and civil society. As Boeing intensifies its focus on sustainability, we will continue to help advance policies, form partnerships, and share our position on sustainable aviation growth for the benefit of our sector and society at large.

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