ECLIF3 study highlights non-CO2 reduction benefits of SAF in commercial aircraft

by | Jun 7, 2024 | Sustainability

Yesterday, results from the world’s first in-flight study looking at the impact of using 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on both engines of a commercial aircraft were shared. Here’s what was found.

“Using SAF in flight could significantly reduce the climate impact of aviation in the short term by reducing non-CO2 effects such as contrails, in addition to reducing CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of SAF.”

The study looked at emissions produced by both engines of an Airbus A350 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines and had a DLR chase plane follow the aircraft to collect data on soot particles and contrail ice crystals. The soot emitted by aircraft engines helps to form contrails that evolve into cirrus clouds which often have an overall warming effect. Previous research has already shown that non-CO2 effects, like contrails, could account for a large proportion of the industry’s environmental impact.

The ground breaking ECLIF3 study, conducted by Airbus, Rolls-Royce, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), and SAF producer Neste has reported its findings in the Copernicus journal Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics (ACP) as part of a peer-reviewed scientific process. The test provides the “first in-situ evidence of the climate impact mitigation potential of using pure, 100 per cent SAF on a commercial aircraft.”

Results showed 100 per cent SAF had a 56 per cent reduction in contrail ice crystals compared to Jet A-1 fuel in an Airbus A350. The global climate model simulations by DLR looking at radiative forcing also estimated a 26 per cent reduction of the impact of the contrails compared to the Jet A-1 reference fuel.

Mark Bentall, head of Research & Technology Programme, Airbus, said:

“We already knew that sustainable aviation fuels could reduce the carbon footprint of aviation. Thanks to ECLIF studies, we now know that SAF can also reduce soot emissions and ice particulate formation that we see as contrails. This is a very encouraging result, based on science, which shows just how crucial sustainable aviation fuels are for decarbonising air transport”.

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