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Propulsion and Energy Systems to Reduce Commercial Aviation Carbon Emissions
[Low Carbon Aviation Committee]


low carbon report cover

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Statement of Task

The National Research Council will convene an ad hoc committee to develop a national research agenda with the objective of reducing life-cycle carbon emissions[1] from commercial aviation globally, even if air traffic grows as expected. The recommended research agenda will consist of a prioritized set of research projects of importance to the national and international commercial aeronautics community, and it will focus on advances in technologies and capabilities that can only be achieved through substantial research and technology development. Specifically, the committee will focus on new or more highly efficient propulsion (such as hybrid-electric) and energy systems (such as biofuels, batteries, and fuel cells). This includes consideration of the opportunities and challenges that changes in propulsion and energy technologies have for aircraft configurations, airline operational models, and infrastructure integration. Other key considerations include economic, regulatory and other policy opportunities and challenges that would be associated with a potential major change in propulsion and/or energy systems. This study is focused on propulsion and energy systems research; it will not develop recommendations for research in other areas such as airframe designs or air traffic management systems. In addition, the scope of this study excludes non-technology, policy approaches such as the imposition of carbon taxes, the use of carbon offsets, or legislative limits on carbon emissions.

In particular the committee will:

1. Consider the following:

a. Current goals, guidance and plans by government, industry, and other relevant bodies to reduce carbon emissions globally from civil aviation in the face of increasing demand for air transportation.
b. The current state of the art in lower-carbon propulsion and energy systems, lower-carbon propulsion and energy research efforts, and relevant research for other applications (for example, national defense, space, automotive, and marine applications) by industry, NASA, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Energy, other federal agencies, academia, and non-U.S. research agencies and organizations.

2. Discuss the following:

a. Research leading to advances in propulsion and energy system technologies that could be introduced into service during the next 10 to 30 years and that would reduce global carbon emissions by commercial aviation. Consider technologies that might contribute to (i) a steady pace of incremental advances and (ii) credible, step changes in advancing current capabilities.
b. Synergistic opportunities and challenges for integration of advanced propulsion and energy systems with conventional and advanced airframe configurations, alternative airline concepts of operation, and with integration within the aviation and broader transportation and energy infrastructures.
c. Other economic, technical, regulatory, and policy barriers, key challenges, and opportunities, both domestically and internationally, for implementing next-generation technologies for reducing global commercial aviation carbon emissions.

3. Outline a potential national research agenda to advance propulsion and energy systems to reduce global carbon emissions from commercial aviation, as follows:

a. A broad vision for an aviation system powered by low-carbon propulsion and energy systems.
b. A range of the most promising propulsion and energy system options to achieve the vision and the major technical, economic, and policy challenges associated with those major options.
c. A research agenda consisting of a set of research projects, grouped by priority, that if successful could enable the most promising options.
d. The agenda should be developed with due consideration of the resources and organizational partnerships required to complete the projects included in the agenda.
e. The research agenda should, as appropriate, describe the potential contributions and role of U.S. research organizations, including NASA, other federal agencies, industry, and academia.

[1] Carbon emissions should be considered over the entire life-cycle of the energy system (from source to use) as well as potential life-cycle environmental impacts of changes to the vehicle/propulsion system (from production to use to disposal/recycle).



June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015
Washington D.C.

September 1, 2015 - September 2, 2015
Washington D.C.

November 10, 2015 - November 11, 2015
Irvine, California

January 7-8, 2016
Irvine, CA

Committee Membership

Link to Bios

Karen A. Thole - (Co-Chair)
Pennsylvania State University


Woodrow Whitlow - (Co-Chair)
Cleveland State University


Meyer J. Benzakein
The Ohio State University


R. Stephen Berry
The University of Chicago


Marty K. Bradley
Boeing Commercial Airplanes


Steven J. Csonka
Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative


David J. Eames
Rolls-Royce, North America


Daniel K. Elwell
Elwell & Associates, LLC


Alan H. Epstein
Pratt & Whitney


Zia Haq
U.S. Department of Energy


Karen B. Marais
Purdue University


James F. Miller
Argonne National Laboratory


John G. Nairus
Air Force Research Laboratory


Stephen Ruffin
Georgia Institute of Technology


Hratch G. Semerjian
National Institute of Standards and Technology (Retired)


Subhash C. Singhal
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory