Looking 30 years into the future, Boeing, GE, and Georgia Tech have teamed up to design an aircraft that can reduce fuel emissions by 70% and total energy use by 55%.
Boeing Research and Technology (BR&T) completed an 18-month study to develop the SUGAR (Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research) Volt as an aircraft design concept, along with General Electric and Georgia Tech.
The design was submitted to NASA’s N+3 competition for green air transportation to develop technology three generations more advanced (hence +3) than what is available today.
The aircraft uses an electric-battery/gas-turbine hybrid propulsion system that can potentially decrease fuel use in air travel by more than twice the amount used by current aircraft along with associated emissions reductions. The design also shortens takeoff distance and noise of the aircraft, elements that could be extrapolated to societal benefits (less airport space required, community improvements, and perhaps even a rise in home values near airports).
However, for the design concept to become reality, the BRT team acknowledges that battery technology needs to become significantly more advanced to be able to accomodate the energy needs of a commercial aircraft. According to team leader Marty Bradley of BR&T, “At this point, the SUGAR Volt is only a concept configuration that we are using to assess the potential of hybrid electric engine technology.”
Nevertheless, the SUGAR Volt represents a future in which the commercial airline industry, one of the biggest culprits in greenhouse emissions, can significantly reduce its carbon footprint by adapting innovative energy technology to bring both social and environmental benefits to millions of travelers worldwide.