Meatless Monday Update: Well breakfast went as usual (oatmeal), lunch was not as successful. We like to get out of the office for lunch sometimes….so we went to Olive Garden. Our intention was soup, salads and breadsticks…but the veggie soup didn’t sound appetizing. So we chose a basic angel hair pasta and tomato sauce dish, which was tasteless! Needless to say we got full on salad! And not being able to stand another disappointing meal and starving…I had cereal for dinner. Any ideas for restaurants on Meatless Mondays???
Emagazine.com features an “Earth Talk” column which answers questions about the environment. A Sustainable Life will occasionally share some of these Q&A’s with you.
Dear EarthTalk: Can airplanes be run on cleaner fuels or be electric powered? Are there changes afoot in the airline business to find cleaner fuels?
Given air travel’s huge contribution to our collective carbon footprint—flying accounts for about three percent of carbon emissions worldwide by some estimates—and the fact that basic passenger and cargo jet designs haven’t changed significantly in decades, the world is certainly ready for greener forms of flying. But since air travel emissions were not regulated the friendly skies aren’t much greener than they were a few decades ago.
Nonetheless, some airlines and airplane manufacturers are taking steps to improve their eco-footprints. Southwest and Continental have implemented fuel efficiency improvements, waste reduction programs and increased recycling, and are investing in newer, more fuel efficient airplanes. Another airline on the cutting edge of green is Virgin Atlantic, which made news in early 2008 when it became the first major carrier to test the use of biofuels (liquid fuels derived from plant matter) on passenger jet flights. Now Air New Zealand, Continental, Japan Airlines (JAL), JetBlue, and Lufthansa are also testing biofuels.
Even airplane maker Boeing is getting in on the act by developing a carbon-neutral jet fuel made from algae. Boeing’s newest commercial jet, the much vaunted 787 Dreamliner (now in final testing before late 2010 delivery to several airlines), is 20 percent more fuel efficient than its predecessors thanks to more efficient engines, aerodynamic improvements and the widespread use of lighter composite materials to reduce weight. Airbus is also incorporating more lightweight composite materials into its new planes.
On the extreme end of the innovation spectrum are zero-emission airplanes that make use of little or no fuel. The French company, Lisa, is building a prototype small plane, dubbed the Hy-Bird, that uses solar power (via photovoltaic cells on the elongated wingspan) and hydrogen-powered fuel cells to fly with zero emissions—and nearly no engine noise.
Even more unusual is the proposed fuel-free plane dreamed up by Mississippi-based Hunt Aviation. The company is working on a prototype small plane that harnesses the natural forces of buoyancy (thanks to helium-filled pontoons) for lift-offs and gravity for landings—along with an on-board wind turbine and battery to power everything in between—to achieve flight without any fuel whatsoever.
Don’t look for these futuristic planes on airport runways anytime soon. It will likely be decades before this technology filters its way up to the big leagues.