Key Takeaways From the 22nd Annual PNAA Conference
Being an avid reader of this magazine, you may recall an article from last year, when we shared news about the state’s Innovation Cluster Accelerator Program (ICAP), a Washington State Department of Commerce program supported through the EDA Safe Start Grant.
The goal of the innovation clusters is to drive innovation, overcome barriers, and access new market opportunities, as well as to attract talent and capital. The full ICAP program is currently supporting nine industry-led innovation clusters, one of them being managed by our partner, the Aerospace Future Alliance (AFA).* Misha Lujan, director of cluster initiatives, is sharing about all the work she has been involved with in the creation of the new Sustainable Aviation Technologies and Energies (SATE) Cluster.
Last fall, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) gathered in Montreal and adopted a collective long-term global aspirational goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. While it is true that the aviation industry only contributes two to five percent of global carbon emissions today, that percentage will exponentially increase when commercial travel grows as projected and other sectors decarbonize more rapidly. Airplanes have long life cycles and significant energy requirements. That is why aviation is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize. If the aviation industry hopes to achieve the goals outlined by the ICAO, innovation must accelerate rapidly.
In March 2022, AFA received a Department of Commerce Innovation Cluster Accelerator Program grant to help lead the aviation industry’s global fight against climate change. The Sustainable Aviation Technologies and Energies (SATE) Cluster is a consortium of legacy industry, entrepreneur, research institutions, government, and venture capital partners working collaboratively to decarbonize the aviation industry.
The SATE Cluster recognizes the utilization of three tools—Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), electrified, and hydrogen-powered aviation—as a holistic approach to decarbonization. Three focus areas guide the work of the SATE Cluster: increased project coordination, targeted advocacy, and workforce development.
As we look toward a net-zero future, today, only one tool is available to reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent. Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) are “drop-in” fuels compatible with existing aircraft and engines. The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge Roadmap calls for three billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel annually by 2030 and 35 billion gallons by 2050 to meet the carbon reduction goals. Current production in the United States is approximately five million gallons of SAF. Washington State University is a global leader in SAF research, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as co-leaders of ASCENT, the Federal Aviation Administration’s sustainable aviation research organization.
In September 2022, Eviation completed a test flight of Alice, the first all-electric passenger airplane. Alice took off from the Grant County International Airport in scenic Moses Lake, Washington, ascended to 3,500 feet, and flew for eight minutes. For electric aviation, the limiting factor for commercial deployment continues to be battery storage and energy density. Batteries do not have the same energy density as fossil fuels. For that reason, all-electric aircraft, like Alice, will primarily serve smaller regional markets.
While it once seemed like a far-off dream, hydrogen-powered aviation is quickly becoming a reality. According to the European Union’s 2022 hydrogen-powered aviation report, hydrogen could feasibly be used to power a commercial passenger aircraft on a flight of up to 3,000 kilometers (1864.1 miles) by 2035 and medium-range flight of up to 7,000 kilometers by 2040. Last month, ZeroAvia made history by flying the world’s largest hydrogen-electric aircraft. ZeroAvia is expanding rapidly with plans to open a new hanger space at Everett’s Paine Field in April 2023.
With a predominantly renewable power grid, a robust offering of feedstocks for SAF, a well-established advanced manufacturing supply chain, and world-class researchers, Washington State is poised to lead the aviation industry’s transition to a decarbonized future. Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 in one of the most difficult-to-abate sectors will require focused resources and collaboration across the aviation industry. Concentrated innovation engines like the SATE Cluster will be critical in the industry’s transformation.
For more information on the SATE Cluster, go to www.afa-wa.com/sate.
*Aerospace Futures Alliance is Washington State’s trade association for aerospace and aviation. For nearly two decades, AFA has served as a unifying voice to advocate for policies impacting aerospace on a local, state, and federal. To learn more, visit www.afa-wa.com.