Make Aviation More Sustainable by Lightweight Structures and Smart Design


Aviation Aerospace

Two professors at the University of Toronto are currently developing an airplane design that is aimed at increasing fuel economy/efficiency. This breakthrough could literally save hundreds of millions of liters of fuel which in turn will save exponentially more in terms of the amount of money we will save. This development will also greatly reduce the environmental impact of operating an aircraft by making it more green-friendly.

Craig Steeves and Philippe Lavoie are professors and members of the Centre for Research in Sustainable Aviation at U of T’s institute for Aerospace Studies. The two professors are currently focusing on designing an ultra –light airplane design that will consist of lightweight materials which will allow air flow optimization over the tail fins and wings. With more than 100,000 commercial flights taking off and consuming over 100,000 liters of fuel or more every day, once can see the significant impact this new design will have on the Aerospace world. Even a slight improvement in fuel efficiency would severely cut down on carbon dioxide emissions and not only save the environment but also billions of dollars for airlines/passengers, carriers and customers alike. An obvious way to improve fuel economy is to make the planes lighter.

This can be accomplished by using stronger yet lighter materials. Collaborating with Glenn Hibbard, Professor Steeves has begun designing materials that are similar to the scaffolding used on the Statue of Liberty/Eiffel Tower which are 3D printed polymers coated with an ultra-high strength nanocrystalline metal. Steeves believes that the advances in 3D printing have enabled engineers to design structures that are incredibly complex and complicated than any undertaking in the history of mankind.

Another way of improving fuel economy/efficiency is to improve air flow by generating and maximizing lift force during takeout and minimizing drag during cruise flight. By having actuators placed strategically along the wing’s surface on an aircraft more wind flow/control can be achieved. And while all of this is theoretical and have played out mostly in simulations, Steeves and Lavoie are confident that with time, they can improve the fuel efficiency by as much as five to ten percent which would translate into either 500 or a billion liters of jet fuel saved every single day. Talk about a game-changer.

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