How Aerion is Creating a Sustainable Supersonic Future
By Aerion Supersonic on Apr 22, 2020
5 min read
Here at Aerion, we’re committed to designing a method of travel that is not only faster but also addresses the climate crisis head on.
We strongly believe we can transform the future of aviation without compromising the future of the planet. Being kind to our planet is deeply ingrained in Aerion’s ethos. Speed and the protection of our environment are not mutually exclusive. In fact, our environmental commitment extends to our company and our products. As we’re creating a new paradigm in the aerospace industry that supports humanity’s desire for more face-to-face communication – a desire ever more clear as that connection is cut off during the COVID-19 crisis – we also understand the environmental challenges historically associated with the development and operation of supersonic aircraft. At the same time, we believe that any innovation – no matter how beneficial to mankind – must also protect the environment for future generations. Sustainable supersonic travel is possible. But it requires new levels of innovation, and Aerion is committed to innovating without compromise.
Aerion’s approach is different: We have committed from day one to have neutral carbon emissions. This is not a future goal, but something that is happening right now.
We’re going to achieve that goal using a balanced, holistic approach that includes our facilities, design, manufacturing, customer operations and even the retirement of the aircraft at the end of its useful life.
We believe that with innovation, sustainable supersonic travel is possible.
A huge part of what will make the AS2 sustainable is the Affinity engine.
Aerion has worked with GE to create the first modern, non-afterburning, supersonic jet engine designed to be civil-certified. The last civil-certified supersonic engine was the Concorde’s Rolls-Royce Olympus, designed and built more than five decades ago. As you know, engine technology has significantly advanced since then.
In addition to incorporating new materials and components that specifically address not only propulsion performance but also emissions and noise, the Affinity engine is also specified for use with 100 percent synthetic fuels. By operating on pure synthetic fuel, lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by up to 80%.
Another issue that has held up supersonic aviation in the past is the sonic boom, which we’re addressing with our Boomless Cruise™ technology.
Boomless Cruise™ will enable the AS2 to fly at low supersonic speeds while preventing its sonic boom from reaching the surface of the earth. The phenomenon underlying Boomless Cruise™ has been studied for over six decades. Effectively, at low supersonic speeds, the sonic boom pressure wave can encounter a layer in the lower atmosphere (known as the caustic layer) that acts much like a reflective surface and causes the pressure wave to refract or bend away from that layer. We all see strong examples of refraction daily. When the sun or the moon are low on the horizon, they appear much larger than when they are directly overhead. This is caused by the light waves bending as they pass through the atmosphere at shallow angles.
A similar situation occurs with sonic booms. The altitude at which the caustic layer occurs is strongly related to the temperature profile of the atmosphere and the presence of any temperature inversion layers that may exist in the air beneath a supersonic airplane. Why is it temperature dependent? Because the main factor that causes variations in the atmospheric speed of sound is air temperature. By knowing what the atmospheric temperature profile is in the volume of air surrounding the aircraft as it flies along its flight plan, the caustic layer can be predicted, and with it, the maximum Mach number that an aircraft can fly such that its sonic boom refracts off the caustic layer. It’s also designed to have landing and take-off noise levels that are comparable to today’s modern, quieter subsonic commercial jets.
Sustainability doesn’t just come from the AS2 itself; it also comes down to manufacturing.
If we only focused on building sustainability into the AS2, we would be missing significant opportunities to further reduce our environmental footprint. When we say that sustainability is deeply ingrained in our ethos, we are addressing what it takes from beginning to end to create, sell and operate our aircraft – key characteristics of being good environmental stewards.
Let’s focus briefly on the manufacturing aspects. It starts with the facilities in which we will produce the aircraft. It embodies how the building is constructed, how we heat and cool the internal environment for our employees and for certain manufacturing processes that require climate control, the materials from which the aircraft is made, where those materials originated and how they were created. We have to pay attention to the manufacturing processes themselves and any chemicals that may be required. Those are just a few examples, and we plan to create an independently auditable trail to keep track of how well we are doing to minimize our footprint. In areas that require technologies that may have more significant environmental footprints, we will be seeking ways to balance their impact through thoughtful counter-balancing actions.
In addition to the sustainability elements from the manufacturing of the jet to the jet itself, we’re committed to plant 100 million trees by 2036 to counter-balance carbon emissions.
We have committed to offset all of the CO2 emissions from the operations of each and every AS2. Our 100,000,000-tree pledge is based on our total market forecast and projected fleet utilization rates over the entire lifecycle of the AS2. Our projections start by assuming the AS2’s operate on fossil-based jet fuels which means that as our customers use of synthetic fuel increases Aerion will be reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere through natural sequestration by these forests.
Our success will leverage teaming with a variety of organizations worldwide to create new forests through reforestation/afforestation programs, and projects based upon direct air capture carbon sequestration technologies. In order to manage this expansive program, Aerion is establishing a nonprofit foundation to evaluate, plan and oversee new projects on a continuing basis. The foundation will also be responsible for maintaining a continuing relationship with the various public and private entities that own the land where the forests are created in order to ensure the continuing health of the trees.