Climate change also impacts decisions made in the aerospace & defense engineering sectors.
Military aircraft are especially vulnerable to dumping huge amounts of carbon emissions. With governments around the world promising net-zero emissions, this becomes a challenge for defense organizations. Specifically: How can they operate more sustainably while preserving mission-critical capabilities?
Defense forces contribute a substantial amount to government CO₂ emissions. Estimates suggest that each year the U.S. Department of Defense emits over 56 million metric tons of CO₂ equivalent (a metric ton of CO₂ equivalent measures emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of CO₂).
Of this amount, 60% is from vehicle, aircraft, ship and passenger-fleet emissions; 25% is purchased electricity; 10% is on-site fuel consumption at federal facilities; and 5% comes from other sources.
Emissions from the U.S. Department of Defense represent about 80% of emissions from the U.S. federal government. In the United Kingdom, defense accounts for as much as 50% of government emissions ; in Canada, the Department of National Defense is responsible for roughly half of the government’s fleet and facilities emissions.
One possible initiative to cut carbon emissions is to use drop-in biofuels for ships and some aircraft for selected missions as some countries are already beginning to evaluate in trials.
Another fix might include using more efficient engines, lightweight materials and more aero- or hydrodynamic designs. This could increase aircraft efficiency by 36% between 2020 and 2050, assuming minimal electrification.
An idea that has many analysists intrigued involves introducing electric unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which, for missions where electric power is appropriate, could lead to a near-complete elimination of Scope 1 and 2 emissions.
In this case, the switch to a low-carbon technology may even upgrade mission-critical capabilities, as it can increase stealth compared with fossil-powered alternatives. The financial cost is high, however. Any additional costs can be balanced against the capability and sustainability benefits.
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