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Can Supersonic Aircraft Be 100% Carbon Neutral?

Christian Albertson
Jun 29, 2021

Plane

When thinking about airlines and transcontinental flights, it’s rare to use the terms supersonic and carbon neutral in the same sentence. However, some airlines don’t see it that way. It is estimated that commercial aviation is responsible for as much as 3% of global CO2 pollution. To put this into perspective, the entire continent of Australia is only responsible for 1% of global CO2 emissions, and the UK another 1%. Airlines have recognized this and are stepping up in ways that could affect the future of both aviation and the environment. These airlines are developing strateg to address emissions.

Aviation Companies Commit to 100% Carbon Neutrality by 2050

Many airlines are going the route of carbon reduction through fuels with investments in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and direct air capture technology. Others are reducing fuel burn through performance enhancements of aircraft with the fuel-saving Split Scimitar Winglets, which conserve on every flight.

While SAF and performance enhancing modifications are moving forward in the aviation carbon neutral race, two companies have made announcements that are even more ambitious and even more daring. United Airlines announced an order for 15 Boom Overture supersonic aircraft with options to purchase another 35 aircraft in the future. Japanese Airlines invested $10 million with the option to purchase 20 aircraft. Both are betting on supersonic aircraft while trying to be carbon neutral—not something you hear every day.

How Do You Keep Aircraft with Three Engines Carbon Neutral at 1,300 Miles per Hour?

The answers are in the design of the aircraft, the engines used, and the fuel itself. The design of the Overture closely resembles the Concorde, designed for the sole purpose of traveling fast—streamlined and aerodynamic. The aircraft is a sleek, three-engine delta wing that will be capable of flying at speeds up to Mach 1.7 while having a range of just under 5,000 miles and carrying up to 88 passengers. This design will allow the aircraft to fly from New York to London in less than 4 hours, something the public has not been able to experience since the Concorde was retired in 2003.

Rolls-Royce has partnered with Boom to determine the proper engine package for the Overture aircraft. While no specific engines have been publicly designated for the Overture, both Boom and Rolls-Royce are determined that the engines will be carbon neutral and fuel efficient. The companies are also working to enable the designated engines to operate on up to 100% SAF. Boom has also partnered with a company called Prometheus Fuels to provide jet fuel for testing of the company’s Overture aircraft, which is made from CO2 taken from the air.

Combine the fuel-efficient design of the aircraft, engines that sip 100% SAF, and fuel derived from CO2 pulled out of thin air, these aircraft have a good chance of achieving their carbon neutral goal. The industry may soon be able to fly supersonically and not worry about CO2 emissions. If Boom succeeds with the Overture, the industry may be ready to go supersonic.