Many organizations that oversee commercial aviation — including the International Air Transport Association, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, and the International Civil Aviation Organization — have set sustainable aviation goals, targeting net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by 2050. There are many challenges to achieving these targets, and airline manufacturers are exploring innovative means of reaching that goal.
Per the International Energy Agency, in 2022 commercial aviation generated almost 800 megatonnes of emissions (considering both domestic and international aviation taken together). If aviation were its own country, its fuel-burning emissions alone would rank in the top 15 globally for GHG emissions; furthermore, this total does not count the additional GHG emissions associated with manufacturing the planes themselves, or the material that goes into the planes.
According to McKinsey, from 2005 to 2019 aviation fuel efficiency improved by 39%, but absolute emission still grew because of overall industry growth. More than 75% of the planned reduction in carbon emissions to reach net zero comes from a combination of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and fleet renewal with operational efficiency gains (i.e., changes in the design of planes that allow them to travel further or faster with less fuel). The remainder of the planned reductions would be achieved through carbon offsets. This emphasizes how important changes to airliner design will be in the near future.
Galvorn can help airline companies hit net-zero targets, achieving sustainable aviation
Transitioning to materials and components made from Galvorn supports sustainable aviation and can help airline companies hit net-zero targets in two ways:
- Galvorn can help with the process of reducing aircraft mass, or “lightweighting”. Lightweighting is a fundamental strategy being pursued by manufacturers for both economic and environmental reasons; it has a suite of benefits which include improving fuel economy, making sustainable aviation fuel a more affordable choice, reducing the carbon footprint of fuel burned per flight, and even enabling the use of entirely electric planes.
- Galvorn will have a lower carbon footprint than just about all of the materials that it might replace in current airliner construction. Within 6 years, we aim to have a carbon negative production footprint and achieve -2.3 kg CO2e per kg of Galvorn produced. Check out our CO2 life cycle analysis (LCA) conducted with Shell and The Grantham Foundation.
Lightweighting with Galvorn carbon nanomaterials
Galvorn can be used in many parts of a modern airliner, including purely electrical components, purely structural components, and components that fall somewhere in between, i.e., plane body parts that are not part of the electrical wiring system but which nevertheless exploit the electrical conductivity of Galvorn to increase the safety and performance of the plane.
In structural applications, Galvorn can serve as an alternative to aluminum and carbon fiber composites. In electrical applications, Galvorn is a lightweight alternative to copper wiring and EMI shielding, as well as hybrid electrical/structural applications such as lightning strike protection.
Galvorn for electrical wiring
About 2-3% of an airplane’s “empty weight” mass consists of wires; for a large airplane this includes hundreds of thousands of feet of copper wire. To name one specific example, a Boeing 747-200 jet airplane includes 632,000 feet of copper wire, totaling around 2% of the mass of the plane.
This wiring consists of data communications cables, which include a layer of metallic shielding to reduce interference, and unshielded wires that deliver power or simpler voltage signals. Most of this wiring and shielding is made of copper, which is prized for its high conductivity, but is notoriously dense.
Galvorn’s properties make it suitable for cabling and wiring applications where light weight, strength, and flex life are critical. Not every application requires the 58 MS/m conductivity of copper, for example, as cable shielding or conductors in twisted shielded pair cables. Galvorn CNT shielded cables are at least 40 - 60% lighter than commercial cables and have comparable shielding performance. Galvorn CNT wire is up to 90% lighter than copper wire with significantly better resistance to flex fatigue: over 100x longer flex life than the same diameter copper wire. As such, it can be used to create replacement wires with even greater mechanical durability; replacing the shielding layers in data communications with Galvorn materials will make those cables lighter, as well as thinner and more flexible. The higher flexibility also reduces the amount of material required: copper cannot make tight turns in small spaces, or it will break, so much more copper is required to turn around a much larger radius. In such cases, a much shorter length of Galvorn wire would accomplish the same goal.
Galvorn for purely structural applications
Electrical wiring makes up only a small percentage of an airplane’s empty weight, so while reducing the mass of that wiring is helpful, there are much greater gains to be made by reducing the mass of the wings and fuselage. Decades ago, the body of most airplanes was made from aluminum, which provided a strong structure with relatively light weight. As carbon fiber composite technology has advanced, more and more structural parts have been made with that material, further decreasing plane weight.
Galvorn can play a role in this shift toward the use of lightweight composite materials: using Galvorn as the reinforcing fiber in composites in place of traditional carbon fiber, will allow those composites to maintain a high strength (3 GPa) and low weight (1.6 g/cc).
One of the benefits of using Galvorn composites in place of carbon fiber composites would be a greatly reduced GHG footprint from the fabrication of the material: carbon fiber is made through a process that requires high temperatures and which burns away much of the precursor filament material, so it is inherently energy intensive and materially inefficient compared to the production of Galvorn. Other major benefits could arise from the fact that Galvorn is so much more electrically conductive than carbon fiber, as we will see in the next section.
Galvorn for hybrid electrical/structural applications
Much of the power of Galvorn is in its having a combination of highly valued properties. Because Galvorn is a lightweight and electrically conductive material it can be used to create systems that will help keep airplanes safe without adding as much to their mass as copper or aluminum components might add. Below, we highlight a few specific examples.
Lightning strike protection material
In older planes, lightning strike protection occurred naturally because the body of the plane and its external surfaces were made from metal, which could conduct lightning strikes around the outer part of the plane, thus avoiding any damage to the internal structures. In more modern planes that contain more parts made with lightweight composites, however, additional lightning protection must be added to avoid damage to these composite parts if lightning passes through them.
As described in this article originally published in Boeing’s AERO magazine, lightning strike protection can take the form of bundles of conductive wire to divert or disperse the electrical energy of a strike, or it can take the form of conductive elements built into or bonded to composite body parts, such as a wire mesh or aluminum foil.
Because Galvorn is much more conductive than carbon fiber (10 MS/m vs. 0.1MS/m), a plane made using Galvorn composites might avoid the need for these extra systems. The Galvorn mesh embedded in the composite could potentially do most of the work of dissipating electrical voltage from a lightning strike, without as much heat generation or damage. Extra conductive bundles of Galvorn wire could be included in the structure as needed, for additional protection.
Galvorn as a de-icing material
In cold conditions, it is critical for planes to be able to keep ice from building up on the outer body of the plane, because ice can create extra weight, affect the shape of the wings (which would hinder their ability to generate lift), and potentially jam mechanical parts, especially the flaps on the wings that allow pilots to control shape.
Currently, the primary method used to prevent ice formation at take-off in cold conditions, described in more detail here, is to spray the outside of the plane with a heated mixture of propylene glycol and water. This mixture coats the outside of the plane for a short time, protecting the plane from ice formation long enough for it to reach a high altitude where humidity is lower and ice formation is less likely. This solution does not require any material or mass to be added to the plane, but it obviously does require labor, time, and equipment, including the water treatment needed to deal with chemical run-off after the spray is applied on the runway. It also does not offer permanent protection.
This is an application in which Galvorn could help airplane manufacturers imagine a better future solution. It’s possible that ice formation could be prevented by running electric current through a mesh of lightweight Galvorn wires embedded near the outer skin of an airplane wing, through nearly-invisible Galvorn wires in a window or windshield, without these elements adding as much weight to the plane as a mesh of metal wire. It’s even possible that in a plane made of Galvorn fiber composite, such a heating current could be sent directly through the Galvorn fibers in the composite itself to slightly heat the entire fuselage.
Galvorn can help achieve sustainable aviation and decarbonization goals
Today we see commercial aviation focusing intensely on light weighting and sustainable fuels as pathways to reducing their carbon emissions. Galvorn’s lightweight properties can certainly help accelerate decarbonization on these fronts:
- It makes all planes more energy efficient, reducing their energy consumption and associated carbon emissions — no matter their fuel, which currently is mostly A1 jet fuel.
- During this crucial time where SAF is gaining a market foothold — in part thanks to regulatory mandates and blending ratio targets, but still at a price premium — Galvorn-enabled lightweighting shifts the SAF economics by pulling adjacent levers.
- Extensive lightweighting unlocks major knock-on benefits beyond incremental — if significant — fuel economy improvements, such as smaller and lighter engines or, in extreme cases, making electric aviation possible and economical for shorter flights.
“The short story is that when you can make a plane lighter, then you can save on fuel costs because you don’t have to burn as much fuel to get from point A to point B,” says Colin Young, Senior Research Scientist, DexMat. “That reduces the carbon footprint as well as the cost. But over time, electric airplanes will also become more feasible as the weight of the rest of the plane goes down. Galvorn can help innovators who are trying to transform commercial aviation for the better, both economically and environmentally.”
What is given less attention is the GHG emissions associated with material production–be it in aviation or other industries. Today, the steel, aluminum, and copper industries account for 2% of the global economy ($1500 B), 8% of global emissions (3750 MT CO₂), and 12% of global energy use (62 EJ).
- Steel: 2900 MT CO₂ $1100 B Industry, 48 EJ Energy Use, 1600 MT Production
- Aluminum: 750 MT CO₂, $150 B Industry, 13 EJ Energy Use, 65 MT Production
- Copper: 100 MT CO₂, $250 B Industry, 1 EJ Energy Use, 20 MT Production
As we see continued advancements in policies requiring GHG emissions reporting, including Scope 3 emissions, aviation–and other industries–can reap even more significant benefit from Galvorn. At scale, DexMat predicts Galvorn’s GHG intensity to be -36 kg CO₂/kg, and total GHGs to be -2500 MT CO₂ / year. No other industry comes close to the negatives. Check out our CO2 life cycle analysis (LCA) conducted with Shell and The Grantham Foundation.
A net-zero aviation future is within reach
While Galvorn carbon nanomaterial delivers critical lightweighting, it also comes with superior strength, carbon-negative benefits at scale as it displaces GHG-intensive materials, and the security that comes with using a material that is abundant and recyclable. The above examples only skim the surface of the fast-expanding potential.
“We’re actively talking with aviation manufacturing leaders about how Galvorn can help address their challenges — for example, supporting airplane electrification at supersonic speed,” says Dmitri Tsentalovich, Co-founder and CTO, DexMat. “With its powerful mix of properties, we love seeing how people’s minds light up in re-imagining how to solve critical challenges for sustainable and efficient aviation.”
Interested in learning how Galvorn could support your aerospace manufacturing goals? Contact us and share the challenges you’re facing in commercial aviation product development and let’s discuss if Galvorn can help.