MIT develops concept for airplanes to combat air pollution

The noxious chemical waste from airplanes’ exhaust kills 16,000 people every year globally, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research note.

(Subscribe to our Today’s Cache newsletter for a quick snapshot of top 5 tech stories. Click here to subscribe for free.)

Asthma, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular disorders have a common enemy –nitrogen oxides or NOx. The chemical, emitted by aeroplanes and motor vehicles, pollutes the air.

Motor vehicles have an emission control system that washes out exhaust gas, limiting NOx in vehicular emission. This process could not be replicated in airplanes as the emission control system would interfere with the thrust required to lift off the aircraft.

Also Read | Greenhouse gas emissions have regional impacts on wildfire outbreaks: study

The noxious chemical waste from airplanes’ exhaust kills 16,000 people every year globally, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research note.

To combat the rising threat, a team of researchers at MIT have developed a concept hybrid-electric aeroplane propulsion system.

The team published the details of the design, including analyses of its potential fuel cost and health impacts in Energy and Environmental Science journal. Their proposed concept changes the way an aeroplane’s propellers are powered.

In the hybrid electric system, the gas turbine drives a generator, producing electricity to power aircraft’s wing-mounted, electrically-driven propellers.

Also Read | BMW’s electric wingsuit can fly at speeds of 300 kmph

To make this happen, they moved the power-generating gas turbine from the wings and integrated it with the plane’s cargo hold – where the generator is located.

This design, the team claims, will clean the exhaust before releasing harmful chemical into the atmosphere as it ensures post-combustion emissions pass through the control system.

“This would still be a tremendous engineering challenge, but there aren’t fundamental physics limitations,” Steven Barrett, Professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said. “If you want to get to a net-zero aviation sector, this is a potential way of solving the air pollution part of it, which is significant, and in a way, that’s technologically quite viable.”

Also Read | Rolls-Royce tests technology to make world’s fastest electric plane

The team estimates that the concept would eliminate 95% of aviation’s NOx emissions, and thereby reducing premature deaths by 92%.

They also calculated that if such a hybrid electric system were to be implemented in a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 aircraft, the extra weight would require about 0.6% more fuel to fly the plane.

You have reached your limit for free articles this month.

Subscription Benefits Include

Today’s Paper

Find mobile-friendly version of articles from the day’s newspaper in one easy-to-read list.

Unlimited Access

Enjoy reading as many articles as you wish without any limitations.

Personalised recommendations

A select list of articles that match your interests and tastes.

Faster pages

Move smoothly between articles as our pages load instantly.


A one-stop-shop for seeing the latest updates, and managing your preferences.


We brief you on the latest and most important developments, three times a day.

Support Quality Journalism.

*Our Digital Subscription plans do not currently include the e-paper, crossword and print.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button