Back in April, the EU announced the launch of its ReFuelEU initiative to cut aviation emissions and encourage the widespread use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). This means that from 2025, all flights departing from EU airports must have at least two per cent of SAF in aircraft systems. This will increase to six per cent by 2030, and 70 per cent by 2050.
The EU has classed SAF as a “drop-in” fuel, which means it can easily be blended with conventional fossil jet fuels; some examples include naturally sustainable biofuels, and synthetic fuels such as hydrogen. With the countdown until the initial 2025 deadline now on, fuel suppliers must prioritise how they can adhere to the rules and meet these deadlines. To support this long-term transition, suppliers can look at leveraging simulation to speed up the process of developing new and blended fuel safely, and in an environmentally conscious manner.
Simulation is a safe and sustainable solution
SAF has the potential to make a widespread positive impact on decarbonisation efforts and help the EU meet its sustainability goals. To achieve net-zero, the aviation industry must scale and transition the usage of hydrogen and SAF. Most aircraft are certified to run with up to 50 per cent SAF, and testing is underway for engines run entirely on SAF. Hydrogen is also a very viable solution that can create synthetic fuels or combust for propulsion.
Fuel suppliers must overcome safety and environmental challenges before they can produce a final product. They need to understand the combustion characteristics of alternatives like hydrogen, to provide safer operating conditions. It’s also important that suppliers meet the EU’s rule of combining the correct percentage of SAF with the conventional fuel, and how differing percentages affect the overall blend. And, unsurprisingly, they must also avoid causing any environmental harm.
By integrating simulation tools into the production process, these pain points can be alleviated. Simulation can help optimise designs and performance for these new fuel sources and maximise safety as these changes happen. With simulation, engineers can test a range of aviation fuels to accurately predict and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, predict high-temperature areas to analyse and extend component lifetime and durability, as well as predict how transitions to sustainable fuels will impact contrails and their influence on the local environment.
The long-term impact of simulation
Simulation doesn’t just help with the more immediate challenges fuel suppliers face; it’s equally beneficial in the long term. By having the ability to visualise how different percentages of SAF react with fossil fuels, suppliers can get ahead of the EU’s staggered targets to accelerate the widespread transition to blended fuels and support decarbonisation across the aviation industry. Because simulation tools generate a detailed and accurate portrayal of how fuels will react, engineers can pinpoint potential errors or inaccuracies in the final product that might be more difficult to spot if conducting physical testing. With a digital replica, they can easily and efficiently correct these and mitigate risk in the final product not being effective, or not meeting the mandated percentages.
One of the biggest long-term benefits for businesses is simulation’s cost-effectiveness. Decarbonisation is a lengthy process, and creating, developing, and transitioning to SAF is one piece of a complex and costly larger puzzle. However, consumers are concerned about the environmental impact of aviation, and investing in sustainability can bring socioeconomic benefits. Research revealed that 65 per cent of people would be willing to pay for greener air travel, with 46 per cent prepared to travel in an SAF-fuelled aircraft in the next five years.
In the past, SAF has cost more than conventional fossil fuels, which may have contributed to low demand. But, with SAF now having to be produced in mass quantities, potentially leading to an increase in jobs and factories, simulation can contribute to this uptake in production in a cost-effective manner. Simulating the testing process reduces the need to invest in physical materials which often can’t be used more than once. This is especially important considering numerous rounds of tests would need to be conducted to ensure the final product is safe and effective.
The future of flight
With the deadline for the ReFuelEU’s first fuel mandate fast approaching, aircraft carriers will no doubt be preparing to ensure they meet these strict targets, and fuel suppliers will be gearing up for an increase in SAF production. With the future of aviation slowly but surely becoming more sustainable, it’s exciting to think of the incredibly positive impact the ReFuelEU initiative will have on the environment, and how simulation can help the industry safely achieve decarbonisation efficiently and effectively.
Mariano Morales, director, technical account management, aerospace and defence, Ansys.