Aviation Needs Data to Close the Loop for Aerospace Materials

On June 8th, the SUSTAINair project partners hosted ‘Circular Aviation for Green Growth, a virtual 2021 EU Green Week Partner Event with panelists across the aviation supply chain. Their take-home message: Close the loop by coordinating across the aviation supply chain and industries while tackling the lack of transparency and traceability of materials. Creating an aviation-specific database enabling complex lifecycle analysis is underway; however, the current rate of aircraft retirements calls for rethinking regulation of the aircraft´s decommissioning phase.

The two-part event with ten invited speakers and panelists, illuminated the trends, key enabling technologies, and business cases that enable the reduction of aviation’s environmental footprint beyond in-flight operations. With almost 200 registered participants, it gave the aerospace ecosystem a platform to exchange views on how to reap economical and sustainable benefits of circular economy approaches.

Loops and hoops of the aerospace supply chain(s)

To reap the benefits of circular approaches, the panelists agreed that closing the loops for aerospace materials will demand coordination across the aviation supply chain and even across industries.

“In AIRBUS, we regard materials as fast track technology essential for competitiveness as well as for our goals to reach net zero aircraft by 2035,” said Isabell Gradert the Airbus Fast Track leader for Materials and the general advisor for Materials Technology to the CTO.

And the value of the aerospace materials can be retained if thinking about end-of-life and recycling is distributed equally across the lifecycle phases of the aircraft, starting with the design phase. Ligeia Paletti, Circular Aviation theme leader in Future Sky, a flagship program of EREA (Association of European Research Establishments in Aeronautics), explained that circular aviation aims to design and manufacture reusable, recyclable and recoverable air vehicles. Designing with the end-of-life in mind is also an objective of the EcoDesign transversal activity of Clean Sky Joint Undertaking. For this reason, EcoDesign is building an aviation-specific database allowing it to carry out complex lifecycle analyses (LCAs). Various industry partners provide the data.

“The database we are developing is internal to Clean Sky 2 at this point. But we will be looking at various opportunities to share widely via dissemination actions around 2023, “assured Sonell Shroff, project officer for EcoDesign of Clean Sky Joint Undertaking.

Aviation-specific database allowing complex LCA models, is next to the lack of transparency and traceability of materials among the identified challenges high on the to-do list of circular aviation.

Smart and recyclable?

Digitalization permeates the conversation around advanced materials, their recyclability, and manufacturing in the same manner as when talking about onboard operations and air traffic management operations. Smart materials which may monitor their own structural health and predictive maintenance are within the research and innovation scope of the featured H2020 projects: MORPHO, DOMMINIO and SUSTAINair. The mentioned research and innovation consortia are also developing technologies enabling scalable industrial recycling of composites and new materials. Even more, SUSTAINair project aims to reduce downgrading of materials.

“Such solutions will be in great demand when the A350 and Boeing 757 retire. However, they will also benefit the wind turbines industry, where 10% of its non-recyclable materials are composite components“, said Irene Fernandez Villegas, representative of SAMPE (Society for Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering) and associate professor in Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft (Netherlands).

Towards regulation of aircraft decommissioning?

History has taught us that aerospace innovations find their way in other industries. What about the other way around? Aircraft decommissioning, in contrast with non-aviation sectors such as shipping and electronics, is still not regulated. Is the voluntary commitment by the commercial entities to follow the industry best practices for aircraft decommissioning enough to preserve the value of high quality and expensive aerospace materials? Such questions remain to be explored.

EcoDesign of Clean Sky Joint Undertaking and AIRBUS representatives expressed support for coordinated policy action when it comes to sharing best practices for aircraft end-of-life and harnessing the European digitalization agenda that effectively supports data transparency and traceability.

Panellists and speakers

The panellists represented the Association of European Research Establishments in Aeronautics (EREA), Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE), AIRBUS, CleanSky Joint Undertaking, Jet Maintenance Solutions of Avia Group.

The invited projects of the showcase session with Horizon 2020 and Clean Sky projects:
-MORPHO project, coordinator Nazih Mechbal (PIMM – UMR CNRS – CNAM, France)
-DOMMINIO project, coordinator Pablo Romero Rodriguez (AIMEN Technology Centre, Spain)
-SUSTAINair project, coordinator Jürgen Roither (AIT-LKR, Austria)
-CleanSky Joint Undertaking transversal activity EcoDesign, Torsten Moll (Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Germany)

The SUSTAINair coordinator Jürgen Roither of AIT (Austria), and Stein Janssen of KU Leuven (Belgium) split the effort of moderating the two sessions, bridged by the welcome of the project officer for aviation at CINEA, Hugues Felix.

AIT-LKR Leichtmetallkompetenzzentrum Ranshofen GmbH (Austria)
Netherlands Aerospace Centre – NLR (Netherlands)
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. – DLR (Germany)
Johannes Kepler University Linz (Austria)
Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
INOCON Technologie GmbH (Austria)
INVENT GmbH (Germany)
Dutch Thermoplastic Components B.V. (Netherlands)
RTDS Association (Austria)

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