U.S. Department of Energy Announces $10 Million to Explore Mitigation of Aviation Emissions

ARPA-E Exploratory Topic Focuses on Developing Aviation Contrail Predictive System

Press and General Inquiries:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy today announced up to $10 million in funding to develop new technologies and tools to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.

“We know it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to reach net-zero emissions, and that includes the aviation industry,” said ARPA-E Director Evelyn N. Wang. “ARPA-E is already working on electrifying aviation. This new effort focuses on increasing our understanding of water emissions from aviation jet engines, and developing ways to manage those emissions in a way to lessen their potential climate impact.”

Aviation is a critical piece of both domestic and international transportation networks. Aircraft consume fuels and emit a range of emissions, including carbon dioxide and water vapor in the form of condensation trails. Those condensation trails—known as contrails—occur when aircraft exhaust water mixes with cold, ambient humid air. Fortunately, most contrails dissipate in under ten minutes and are of no concern.

However, under certain atmospheric conditions engine exhaust can cause the formation of persistent contrails. These can produce persistent clouds known as aircraft-induced cirrus (AIC). These upper atmospheric clouds can last for hours and may grow to span wide distances. Studies indicate AIC likely contribute to global radiative forcing at a level that is roughly equivalent to that of the CO2 emissions from the entire aviation sector, or about 2% of total global CO2 emissions.

The funding announced today is part of the new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Exploratory Topic, Predictive Real-time Emissions Technologies Reducing Aircraft Induced Lines in the Sky (PRE-TRAILS).

Through PRE-TRAILS, ARPA-E envisions the development of an Aviation Contrail Predictive System, which could be capable of informing pilots and ground controllers in real-time whether an airplane is likely to produce persistent AIC. PRE-TRAILS projects will develop the diagnostics and predictive tools needed to explore further mitigation of contrail-related climate change.

You can access more information on ARPA-E eXCHANGE.