Boeing is collaborating with NASA and United Airlines to measure how sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) affects contrails and non-carbon emissions using its 737-10 ecoDemonstrator Explorer.

The aircraft will fly with 100% SAF and conventional jet fuel in separate tanks and alternate fuels during testing, while NASA’s DC-8 Airborne Science Lab will fly behind and measure emissions produced by each type of fuel and contrail ice particles. NASA satellites will capture images of contrail formation as part of the testing.

The researchers aim to understand how advanced fuels, engine combustor designs and other technologies may reduce atmospheric warming. For example, tests will assess how SAF affects the characteristics of contrails, which research has suggested can trap heat in the atmosphere.

“We are honoured to collaborate with NASA, United Airlines, and other valued partners on research that will strengthen the industry’s understanding of the benefits of SAF beyond reducing carbon emissions,” said Boeing chief sustainability officer Chris Raymond. “We’ve solved hard problems before, and if we continue to take meaningful actions, I’m confident we’ll achieve a more sustainable aerospace future, together.”

Environmental partnership

The project is the latest phase in a multi-year partnership between Boeing and NASA to analyse how SAF can reduce emissions and enable other environmental benefits.

“Flight testing is complex and resource-intensive, yet it’s the gold standard for understanding how sustainable aerospace innovations affect changes in contrails and climate,” commented Rich Wahls, NASA mission integration manager for the Sustainable Flight National Partnership. “This is why we’re bringing NASA’s DC-8 to bear on this collaboration, where the valuable flight data will improve our predictive models.”

The Boeing ecoDemonstrator program was expanded this year to include Explorer airplanes focused on short-term, specific test projects. Boeing and NASA conducted SAF emissions ground testing on an Alaska Airlines 737-9 in 2021 and ecoDemonstrator 777-200ER and 787-10 flight-test jets in 2022. Boeing has committed to deliver commercial airplanes compatible with 100% SAF by 2030.

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