Fast Company

Your Ideas for Developing Cheap, Quiet, and Clean Commercial Aircraft

United Airlines plane

When we asked FastCompany.com readers for ideas on how to stop the BP oil spill, you delivered--and then some. We highlighted a number of your creative solutions in subsequent posts, and now we have a new challenge: How can we make commercial aircraft significantly quieter, cleaner, and more economical by 2025?

NASA is soliciting proposals for clean, green, cheap aircraft, with the best ideas eligible for $36.6 million in contracts. Up to four teams will be selected in 2011. The agency explains the reasoning behind the Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project:

The projected growth of the air transportation system will increase emissions of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, NOx, water vapor, and particulates, and the number of people exposed to airport noise. It is also widely believed that environmental and energy concerns will continue to grow as well, leading to increasingly stringent certification levels for noise and emissions, and an unending requirement for vehicle fuel efficiency improvements. All this must be achieved without adversely affecting the outstanding record of the global aeronautics enterprise for safety, reliability, and security.

NASA has a number of goals for the project, including:

  • 50% reduction in fuel use and nitrogen oxide emissions compared to today's planes 
  • 80% reduction in the "nuisance noise footprint" surround airports
  • Capability of an 8,000 km range with a 50,000 pound payload
  • Required cruise Mach number of 0.85

Think you have a potential solution for NASA's green aircraft challenge? Let us know in the comments. Check out NASA's official solicitation for ideas here.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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4 Comments

  • micko

    If most fuel is used during takeoff and landing, what about catapults to accelerate the plane to near takeoff speeds and and the same arresting hook to reduce the need for wasteful reverse thrust on landing. Would also mean shorter runways. Could use large solar panels that cover the surrounding fields and grassland between runways to power the caterpults. Probably not an idea for the bigger planes like the 747/A380. Runways could be slightly canted or one for takeoff the other for landing..Could be spread to taxi lanes to bring plane out to main runways.
    Might we see regen braking on landing to cut the power for inflight electricity.

  • Rene Sugar

    Microbiologists at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands found an oxygen-producing bacterium, provisionally named Methylomirabilis oxyfera, that live on a diet of methane and nitrogen oxides.

    The bacteria uses an enzyme that combines two molecules of nitric oxide to form nitrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is then used to metabolize methane to produce water and carbon dioxide.

    Craig A. Grimes, professor of electrical engineering at Penn State and his team used titanium dioxide nanotubes doped with nitrogen and coated with a thin layer of both copper and platinum to convert a mixture of carbon dioxide and water vapor to methane using outdoor visible sunlight.

    1. Use Methylomirabilis Oxyfera to convert nitrogen oxides and methane to water vapor, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

    2. Use Penn State's technology to convert the water vapor, carbon dioxide and sunlight into methane.

    The methane is recycled and the nitrogen gas produced is released or used in some other way.

    The aircraft would have to have a system to collect emissions for processing on the ground.

    One of the ideas behind Penn State's technology is you capture carbon by turning carbon dioxide into methane to create carbon neutral fuel (since you are using and reusing carbon dioxide).

  • johne37179

    Rubber bands. When I was a kid all my airplanes were powered by rubber bands.

    On a serious note -- stored energy is the answer.