Skip to main content

Material gain. Clean Sky's "ecoTECH" innovative ECO-friendly airframe

Aviation's environmental impact is not limited to the operational aspects of transporting people and goods around the world. The footprint of air travel also extends across the entire lifecycle of manufacturing aircraft, their maintenance throughout operational service, and eventually, responsible disposal – or preferably recycling – of an airliner's components and materials at the end of its existence.

Clean Sky's "ecoTECH" innovative eco-friendly airframe project, which is ongoing and runs until 2023, is developing a set of innovative technologies to mitigate the environmental footprint of aircraft production from a global life-cycle point of view. 

"This involves the development of new materials, processes, methods and recycling technologies that will lead to green manufacturing, maintenance and end-of life benefits. The consortium for the project includes twelve partners from Germany, Netherlands, Greece, and Spain and is led by IAI" says Paolo Trinchieri, Project Officer at Clean Sky. "Dassault is the Airframe ITD co-leader together with Airbus D&S Spain. Each of them manage a part of the ITD (AIR-A and B). Eco design is managed in a dedicated AIR C stream. Inside AIR C IAI is leader of the ecoTECH activity coming from a core partner proposal bringing around 15 partners in the project and since then embedded in the Airframe ITD scope". 

Trinchieri adds that the environmental benefits brought about by the newly-developed technologies will be evaluated through "quantified Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) activities. In the final stage of the project, key enabling technologies will be utilized to manufacture demonstrators to verify novel materials, technologies and processes".
Since the first phase of the project kicked off in July 2016 the consortium has been dedicated to evolving and selecting the most promising technologies, working through 2017 on different technologies covering the whole life cycle of the aircraft. 

"We're aiming to lower the environmental burden of the non-operational aspects of aircraft production and life-cycle management, thereby lowering CO2 and NOx emissions and reducing waste" says Jérôme Lery, Senior Project Manager in the R&D and Advanced Business, Future Falcon Technology Department at Dassault Aviation and Airframe ITD Coordinator. "Currently we have approximately fifty technologies being progressed in the ecoTECH consortium in this development phase which started in 2018 and will end in 2020. Thereafter, we will go into the demonstration phase, during which time these technologies will be applied to aircraft parts that will be ground-tested to evaluate their efficiency, benchmarking them against the goals we defined at the outset of the project". 

"The demonstration phase will run from 2020 until 2023 and there will be four different demonstrators – thermoplastics, thermoset, metallic and biomaterial – though we are currently in the process of defining these as we are still working on the technologies, but the decision as to which technologies will be assigned to the four different demonstrators will be frozen in the coming months" says Lery. 

What is particularly unique in Clean Sky's ecoTECH project is the focus on conserving natural material resources and energy – Lery says that even "extraction of the minerals and the raw materials from the ground that are needed to produce metals" is in the consciousness of the project, all of which cumulatively lower the energy consumption during the manufacturing of the parts in the factory. "That is the main goal," says Lery, "but we are also looking at reducing energy consumption during the maintenance phase of the aircraft, and for the end of life we have to reduce the energy consumption during the process of dismantling the aircraft and also for the composite materials recycling aspects".

That's one of the key challenges for the ecoTECH consortium – the recycling of composite materials. "We have to work on innovative processes to recycle the carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) and also the thermoplastics. Thermoplastics are more efficient because the resin of the thermoplastic is infinitely reusable – it's a reversible process – whereas for thermoset resins, they are not so easy to recycle. So, thermoplastic is a good candidate for structural materials, but the problem is the price of these kind of materials".

As for the ecoTECH project's bearing on European aviation and the potential socio-economic benefits, Lery points to the fact that "if we can reach sufficient technology readiness level it will create some specific jobs inside Europe, because outside Europe they will not have these technologies, therefore we will have a source of new jobs associated with new technologies". 

One of the possibilities being explored in the project is the use of plant-based materials as an environmentally desirable alternative to petrochemicals in composites:  

"ecoTECH is developing biomaterials – materials from vegetables. For example, resins for composites are currently based on petrol chemistry, and so we would like to replace the oil based resin with a bio based resin, and if we can reach this objective we could have specific jobs in Europe in order to manufacture this kind of resin and to develop them on an industrial scale" says Lery. "That's just one example, but if we develop a lot of new technologies we will create more jobs in Europe to benefit from these technologies. If we look at metallic materials we are working on additive manufacturing as well in the ecoTECH consortium – we're working on new lighter metallic alloys so we can also benefit from that to make better products, not only for Dassault but for all the contributors of the ecoTECH consortium". 

"For the cabin we are working on a biomaterials demonstrator, collaborating with one of the ecoTECH consortium partners on new materials for the cabin furnishings in the Falcon business jet  with biomaterials which are lighter as well as ecological" says Lery, concluding that "if we have lighter aircraft we will save fuel during the operational phase. We are not directly addressing the use phase in the ecoTECH project, but we are addressing it indirectly through the lighter materials that we are developing".