Just under a year since its Beta version was first presented at the Farnborough International Airshow in JUL22, Boeing has now publicly launched its data modelling tool, Cascade, designed to support aviation stakeholders in their quest for Net Zero by 2050.
The best ideas start out written on a serviette at the bar of a hotel. Whether or not that was the exact scenario is not clear, but by the sounds of things, it could well be. “From an idea and a sketch we created in a Glasgow airport hotel to today … so thankful to the global team that has been on this journey and to the user community who is helping to learn and improve it over time,” was Boeing’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Chris Raymond’s comment on LinkedIn on 17MAY23.
His official quote in the press release explained: “We created Cascade to serve as an industry tool that creates a common framework among aviation, energy, finance, and policy. By putting data first and sharing this model with the public, we are enabling collaboration, feedback and alignment across industry, government and others who work together to achieve a more sustainable aerospace future.”
“[The] biggest challenge for aviation today, is the sustainability challenge - the challenge of balancing two things: flying without significant environmental impact and on the other hand, really connecting the world and bringing people together,” were Executive Director Aerospace, Climate and Sustainability, MIT, Florian Allroggen’s words at the Sustainable Aerospace Together Forum in Seattle on 17MAY23, added to by AIA Chair, Whittle Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Rob Miller: “Because decarbonizing aviation is such a challenge, it's going to require all those players to work together if we're really going to accelerate change.”
The Sustainable Aerospace Together Forum – a premiere hosted by Boeing and the Financial Times in Seattle, USA, earlier this month - did just that – it brought together key players in the aviation, finance, policy, and energy industries together, to discuss cooperation on the solutions required to ensure that aviation reaches its Net Zero decarbonization targets. And provided the back-drop for a data modelling tool developed in collaboration and designed to support aviation players in accelerating positive change.
“A cascading effect is an unforeseen chain of events that occurs when an event in a system has a negative impact on other, related systems,” is the dictionary entry regarding cascading impacts – a phrase that often crops up in relation to the climate crisis or design. Cascade is the name Boeing has chosen for its data modelling tool. Neil Titchener, Cascade Program Leader, described its purpose: “Cascade helps airline operators, industry partners and policymakers see when, where and how different fuel sources affect their sustainability goals. Our industry has really hard questions ahead of us, we're going to have to make difficult choices. Cascade can be the conversation starter for how each decarbonization pathway can help us reach a more sustainable future.”
Based on credible data and analytical models, it enables exploration into the impact of different scenarios, and offers two models – the first is called “Explore Strategies”, an “emissions waterfall” or “cascading” chart that visualizes the impact of five core strategies on the life cycle emissions from aviation, and the second is a “Forecast Scenario” that plots the strategies against each other over time.
Colorful and customizable
What started out as four strategy factors in the Beta version last year, has now grown to five elements. They are: Fleet Renewal, Future Aircraft (Conventional/Hydrogen/Electric), Operational Efficiency (Retrofit & MRO, Fleet & Airport Operations/Flight & Traffic Management/Load Factor), Renewable Energy (Electricity/Hydrogen), and Market-based Measures (Offset Starting Year/Initial Percentage/Offset Growth Rate).
All sliders can be customized to suit, reset, and revised as needed. The results are easy-to-read, colorful charts that support in developing the ideal sustainability strategy. The accompanying information is straightforward, however there is no explicit mention of cargo, so it cannot be judged at this point as to what extent freighters and a cargo/passenger split load factor is visualized in the tool.
Cascade User Community
IATA, NASA, University of Cambridge's Aviation Impact Accelerator and the MIT Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment have come together to form a Cascade User Community, as they continue to develop and refine the tool. “The Cascade User Community will ensure the tool and data sources continue to get feedback and evolve for informed and effective discussions towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050,” said Raymond.
So far, key findings from Cascade's assessments have shown that the energy transition plays a fundamental role in the success of net zero: “Whether using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), hydrogen or electricity, the energy and emissions associated with the production, distribution and storage of fuels must be minimized to achieve the most sustainable outcome,” and that SAF will be the biggest decarbonization contributor since it can already be used in existing commercial airplanes – a factor that is important, since many aircraft flying today will be in service into and even beyond the 2040s. Similarly, flight renewals investing in best-in-class, fuel-efficient airplanes will be another large decarbonization win. On the other hand, though electric- and hydrogen-powered aircraft are planned, they will have limited impact in the run-up to 2050, given that the transition will require massive infrastructure changes.
Only 26.5 years left to go…
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