Passenger aviation continues to become more carbon-efficient per passenger. Engines have improved fuel efficiency by roughly 45% from 1968 to 2014. Airlines also created higher seat density, i.e., more seats per aircraft, more full flights. But carbon emissions continue to rise because passenger growth is between 3-5% each year. CleanSky estimates that the curve will be substantially more gradual in the coming years, but it will continue to grow because of the annual travel growth.
Per tonne of material moved, commercial aviation uses more fuel than any other mode of transportation. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, commercial airlines predicted to use 100 billion gallons of jet fuel by 2022. In 2019, the industry used 96-billion gallons of jet fuel, and it has risen steadily every year, up 44% since 2005.
Even as technology continues to make great strides in the fuel efficiency of jet propulsion, it will not outpace the annual increase in demand on air travel growth, represented directly in increased jet fuel demand. For example, the CFM LEAP-1 engine uses 15% less fuel than the CFM56 engines of the 1990s, 22% more efficient than the CFM56-3 engines of the 1980s. Efficiency continues to compound with each successive generation of machines, but here is the catch: not all aircraft use each subsequent generation of engines.
As the aviation industry actively investigates viable alternatives to traditional fuel modes, hydrogen fuel-cell technology is a prime contender for the industry as a cleaner solution for aircraft.
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