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Blue sky ideas for emissions reduction

10/07/2012

You may have heard of the upcoming self-driving car.  If you haven’t: Google is prototyping self-driving cars.  They are now legal in California and Nevada.  These cars will let passengers spend less time looking at the road (and therefore more time looking at Google ads), but they could also help reduce carbon emissions.  Computerized “hypermiling” could increase fuel efficiency and decrease time and gas spent idling in traffic.

But cars cause only a part of transportation carbon emissions.  Another large chunk of CO2 comes from jets.  So could networked, self-flying jets cut emissions from air travel as well?  Airbus thinks they could.  In a vision for air travel in 2050, Airbus suggests planes flying common routes could eventually fly in formation, drafting off each other to save 10-12% on fuel costs.  Planes need better sensors and automation to fly so close together safely, but considering recent advances the idea isn’t just pie in the sky.  Self-flying jets could save even more fuel by tracking weather conditions and adjusting routes on the fly.


Mighty Ducks flying in formation to save fuel.

Of course, just to keep this post well-grounded, slight improvements in fuel efficiency won’t be enough to make flying an eco-friendly endeavor as Airbus might want us to think.  Eventually, renewable fuels will have to replace fossil jet fuel.  However, it’s very encouraging that industry leaders are coming up with outside the box, blue sky ideas to cut emissions that make equal sense for both balance sheets and the environment.

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