Solar Impulse 2, which isn't the future shape of carbon free flight, but is about its technology.

Qantas has made a gesture toward a carbon neutral airline industry today which is far more important than its media release suggests!

The lead paragraph on the email release, which is different to what appears on its web site, says it is paying the voluntary fee today by which customers have for some time been able to offset their flight emissions on all domestic services.

Which is great. It’s an appropriate announcement to make on what 99.9 percent of the population mightn’t know (or care) is World Environment Day. That offset fee goes to a range of initiatives aimed at reducing the carbon shadow that is cast by aviation, as well as by almost all heavy duty energy users in industrialised societies.

But Qantas is and has been doing much more than this for some years now to build and deploy a green flight mindset in its operations that will lower the release of fossil sourced carbon emissions in every possible way.

From today Qantas is starting the replacement of all conventional lighting in operational areas with energy-efficient LED lights, is revamping its domestic onboard recycling program to reduce waste to landfill, and introducing
new, lightweight freight containers that will cut fuel consumption.

This isn’t trivial.  More than two million tonnes of carbon emissions which are the equivalent of planting 12 million trees, have been offset since Qantas and Jetstar introduced carbon offsetting in 2007.

Qantas Head of Environment, Alan Milne said the airline’s offset program has become the largest of its kind in the world and Qantas was more committed than ever to reducing its carbon footprint.

Fine. Now, let’s think about where this is all headed, and conjure a media release headed something like Qantas Calling Tesla.  That electric automobile maker has recently moved to become a very big player in solar and wind energy storage technology, using its trade marked new tech PowerWall batteries that could radically reduce if not eliminate the need for power generating stations and the poles and wires that distribute main grid electricity.

Solving the problems of actually storing wind or solar energy rather than simply selling it into the grid (under what seem like pathetically unattractive terms in some situations) changes everything, not just in domestic power usage, but at industrial and commercial scales.  It promises to change everything for airlines like Qantas, with their current absolute reliance on fossil carbon releasing kerosene, because what the  PowerWalls set out to do has direct implications for the energy needs of airliners.

Airbus has just started commercial production of an all electric two seat trainer aircraft in the tiny, stunningly picturesque setting of Pau, in the Pyrenees. Boeing has been beavering away on a large scale plan for a 2030s something mid sized regional single aisle airliner in which foreseeable battery technology could not just take over the cruise energy needs of a flight, but augment if not totally replace the more energy demanding take off and climb components. Airbus also has a plan for on board generation of power by a green fuel dynamo which is then buffered and distributed by small E-fan engines on a more aerodynamically efficient monocoque type airframe.

Everything Qantas is doing today anticipates such zero fossil carbon releasing fuel and propulsion systems. It might seem like a huge leap from encouraging carbon reduction in operations today to a time when fuel isn’t refined from fossil carbon releasing crude oils, but attitude and persistence count for everything.

Along the way, sudden opportunities appear, such as breakthroughs in reliable, more affordable, and much more powerful battery technologies.

These are all initiatives, variously tiny or massive, that are coming from businesses that understand that unless they render themselves carbon neutral within a lifetime, they don’t have a future.

PS  The top of screen illustration of the Solar Impulse 2 all electric aircraft was chosen because everything else at hand in airline photo libraries on green flight was dead boring. 

Solar Impulse 2 isn’t the future shape of electric or carbon-neutral airliners. Rather it is a demonstration of the current limitations of a solar technology generated on a wing, in that it is almost the size of an A380 and carries one person! The solar (or wind) powered airliners of the future will pre-package those energy sources in storage systems charged on the ground, and which will be far more potent than any of today’s batteries.

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