The aviation industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. In Europe, sustainable aviation is a growing concern, and the Horizon Europe program has been instrumental in funding projects aimed at reducing the industry’s environmental impact.
One of the primary goals of Horizon Europe is to promote sustainable aviation by funding research and development projects that explore innovative technologies and practices to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency. This initiative is critical in the fight against climate change, as aviation is projected to continue growing over the next few decades.
CAELESTIS is just one of many projects related to sustainable aviation funded by Horizon Europe, with topics including development of new fuels, advanced technologies for aircraft design, and innovative air traffic management systems on the roster. One such project is the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking, which aims to develop and test new technologies for reducing the environmental impact of aviation.
Clean Sky 2 is a public-private partnership between the European Commission and the European aviation industry. It has a budget of €4 billion, and focuses on developing technologies that can be integrated into commercial aircraft within the next few years. The program has already achieved significant progress, such as developments for hybrid electric propulsion systems for small aircraft and helicopters, combining a conventional combustion engine with an electric motor and battery system, reducing fuel consumption and emissions while improving performance or even reducing noise pollution.
The Horizon Europe program also supports the development of alternative aviation fuels. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are an essential part of the industry’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These fuels are derived from renewable sources, such as biomass or waste materials, and they can be used in existing aircraft without the need for significant modifications. For example, the Bio4A project, which ended in 2022, was already looking at how to scale up the industrial production and the market uptake of sustainable aviation fuel made from residual lipids.
Making efficiency gains means more than simply fixing the aircraft themselves – research into air traffic management systems also has a role to play. New systems and technologies can help reduce emissions by improving reducing congestion and delays, and optimizing flight paths. The Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program is a collaborative project to completely overhaul European air traffic management (ATM), and is currently in its third phase.
SESAR is a multi-phase program, with each phase focusing on specific aspects of air traffic management. The program has already achieved significant progress, with the development of new technologies such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), which allows aircraft to share their location data with air traffic controllers, reducing the risk of collisions and increasing efficiency.
One of the key challenges is the need for international cooperation that stretches out beyond the continent of Europe. Aviation is a global industry, and reducing emissions requires a coordinated worldwide effort. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is working to develop global standards for sustainable aviation, but progress has been slow. The Horizon Europe program could well help facilitate global cooperation by supporting projects that involve multiple countries and stakeholders. Fostering collaboration at this scale will build a more sustainable and resilient aviation sector.
The projects listed here, along with CAELESTIS, are all simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Horizon Europe’s always impressive and vast program for sustainability. Through funding research and development projects, the program is driving innovation in the aviation industry, developing new technologies and practices that can and will significantly reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency not only on the European continent, but around the world. The program is a vital part of Europe’s efforts to combat climate change, and it highlights the importance of public-private partnerships in achieving sustainable development goals. By continuing to invest in sustainable aviation and fostering public-private partnerships, Europe can lead the way towards a more environmentally responsible aviation industry.
Further reading on Horizon Europe
- Decarbonising aviation: European Commission to support development of sustainable aviation fuels around the world via the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport
- Horizon Europe & EU Partnerships via Clean Sky
- Factsheet: Open science in Horizon Europe