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Transportation and Power Systems

Decarbonizing Aviation

Leading the effort to use sustainable aviation fuels.

Argonne is helping the aviation industry chart a more environmentally friendly future by bringing science and industry together to advance the research and development of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).

Airplanes use an enormous amount of fuel, and despite increasing efficiency of aircraft engines, airplanes are still responsible for 11% of U.S. transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions. SAFs created from low-carbon sources could dramatically cut aviation’s carbon footprint and decrease its reliance on fossil fuels.

Addressing Aviation Decarbonization Challenges

According to the White House’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, which encourages government agencies to work together to promote the production of SAFs, the goals for sustainable aviation are to produce enough SAFs to meet 100% of jet fuel demand by 2050 and cut greenhouse gas emissions from aviation at least by half, calculated on a lifecycle basis using Argonne’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies Model (GREET) model.

Argonne is in a unique position to help meet these challenges by conducting critical research on SAFs and how these new low-carbon fuels actually work inside a jet engine. Argonne has pioneered new ways to study and model fuel performance inside of automotive and aircraft engines, which they are now applying to SAFs. Argonne also has the use of specialized facilities and resources to advance the science of SAF usage, including the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and the Advanced Photon Source which can help scientists develop a better understanding of what happens to SAF fuels inside an aircraft engine. 

Argonne uses advanced computational tools and physics-based models to simulate how air and fuel mix and flow inside engines to increase the speed of research and development. Argonne scientists are also working to better understand the combustion chemistry of these new fuels by developing chemical kinetics data to help improve chemical models in collaboration with other national labs. By looking at the differences in how SAFs perform in aircraft engines when compared to jet fuels, it may be possible to take advantage of unique characteristics of SAFs to design the next generation of aircraft engine.