Technology driving decarbonisation

A number of lower-emission technologies are already being developed, tested and used in the defence industry

There are many cases where technological advancements within the industry are already contributing to decarbonisation. Although decarbonisation is a challenge for Europe’s defence industry and militaries, it has the potential to bring important advantages beyond reducing the impact on the climate. For our armed forces, reduced carbon usage, for example through improved fuel efficiency, simulation-based training, and electrification-enabled silent manoeuvrability, can bring an operational advantage. The use of decarbonisation technologies, like sustainable aviation fuels, can also reduce the strategic dependence on foreign and non-secure energy supply sources.

Fuel use is the primary source of carbon for the air, maritime and land sectors. Decarbonisation will result from use of alternative fuels, increased platform efficiency and reduction or elimination of the use of the platform. 

Use of Alternative Fuels

  • Sustainable Aviation Fuel: In France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, alternative fuels have been tested in selected air platforms, which has the potential to provide a lifecycle carbon reduction of up to 80 percent compared with traditional jet fuel. Significant R&D effort is still needed in this area, but actual results have already been obtained. The UK RAF as well as the Swedish Airforce have achieved flights on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and new French Falcon 10X, under development, will also fly with 100% SAF.
  • Electricity: Electric unmanned aerial vehicles (eUAVs) are being developed and trialled across a number of European countries.  For missions where electric power is appropriate, this could lead to a near-complete elimination of carbon emissions while increasing stealth and removing pilot safety risk. 
  • Hydrogen: Hydrogen as a fuel could have a key place in a zero-carbon future.  Solutions to the technical and logistical challenges associated with its use in the civilian world are accelerating.  The potential for its use in the defence sector is initially being explored using digital twinning in military infrastructure and logistics. The evolution in the civil aerospace sector is also being closely monitored for potential adaptation.

Increased Efficiency/Reduced Energy Use

  • Digital Twin Technology: Shipping produces significant emissions and is proving hard to decarbonise, so fuel efficiencies are critical in the short term. Maritime digital twin technology developed by Norwegian and German defence companies uses on-board and environmental data to provide fuel efficiency advisory on trim (the way the ship is floating), 3D visualisation of the vessel, and situational awareness, including the impact of weather conditions. This could deliver reduced emissions and cost-effective vessel energy management.

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  • Composite Materials: Materials reinforced with carbon fibre are widely used in military aviation due to their high mechanical strength and low density. These materials being more lightweight for equivalent strength, reduce fuel use. However, conventional recycling methods such as laser cutting or grinding produce recycled materials with poor mechanical properties and limited application for reuse. The EU-funded SPARTA project claims its new linear cutting and compression recycling method for aircraft thermoplastics produces less than 10% loss in mechanical properties, and so can achieve up to 80% reuse.
  • A recent study concludes that the transition from mainly metallic fighter jets to aircraft built using composite material has reduced operational GHG emissions by up to 50%. While this has increased emissions in the supply chain by around 30%, product-operational emissions are an order of magnitude greater. (Roland Berger, Table I)
  • Simulation/Synthetic Training: Battlefield and vehicle operating simulation programmes are being widely deployed by armed forces particularly in the land and air domains. These reduce the need for equipment to be deployed for training and significantly reduce cost. 
  • Hybrid Electric Systems: Hybrid electric systems are increasingly penetrating the transport sector and European defence companies are trialling the same technology in military vehicles and exploring the potential for application in naval vessels. In this instance, the switch to a low-carbon technology has potential to upgrade mission-critical capabilities, as it can increase stealth compared with purely fossil fuel-powered alternatives.

Decarbonising Defence

Explore carbon reduction efforts in the European defence sector and innovative solutions for a greener future in this ASD Paper.
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