21 Nov 2023
 | 21 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Powering aircraft with 100% sustainable aviation fuel reduces ice crystals in contrails

Raphael Satoru Märkl, Christiane Voigt, Daniel Sauer, Rebecca Katharina Dischl, Stefan Kaufmann, Theresa Harlaß, Valerian Hahn, Anke Roiger, Cornelius Weiß-Rehm, Ulrike Burkhardt, Ulrich Schumann, Andreas Marsing, Monika Scheibe, Andreas Dörnbrack, Charles Renard, Maxime Gauthier, Peter Swann, Paul Madden, Darren Luff, Reetu Sallinen, Tobias Schripp, and Patrick Le Clercq

Abstract. Powering aircraft by sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) is a pathway to reduce the climate impact of aviation by lowering aviation life-cycle CO2 emissions and by reducing ice crystal numbers and radiative forcing from contrails. While the effect of SAF blends on contrails has been measured previously, here we present novel measurements on particle emission and contrails from 100 % SAF combustion. During the ECLIF3 (Emission and CLimate Impact of alternative Fuels) campaign, a collaboration between DLR, AIRBUS, ROLLS-ROYCE and NESTE, the DLR Falcon 20 research aircraft performed in situ measurements following an Airbus A350-941 source aircraft powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84 engines in 1 to 2 min old contrails at cruise altitudes. Apparent ice emission indices of 100 % HEFA-SPK (Hydro-processed Esters and Fatty Acids - Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene) were measured and compared to Jet A-1 fuel contrails at similar engine and ambient ice-supersaturated conditions within a single flight. A 56 % reduction of ice particle numbers per mass of burned fuel was measured for 100 % HEFA-SPK compared to Jet A-1 at engine cruise conditions. The measured 35 % reduction in soot particle numbers suggest reduced ice activation by the low sulfur HEFA fuel. Contrail properties are consistently modelled with a contrail plume model. Global climate model simulations for the 2018 fleet conservatively estimate a 26 % decrease in contrail radiative forcing and stronger decreases for larger particle reductions. Our results indicate that higher hydrogen content fuels as well as clean engines with low particle emissions may lead to reduced climate forcing from contrails.

Raphael Satoru Märkl et al.

Status: open (until 02 Jan 2024)

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Raphael Satoru Märkl et al.

Raphael Satoru Märkl et al.


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Short summary
In situ measurements of contrails from a large passenger aircraft burning 100 % sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) show a 56 % reduction in contrail ice crystal numbers compared to conventional Jet A-1. Results from a climate model initialized with the observations suggest a significant decrease in radiative forcing from contrails. Our study confirms that a future increased use of low aromatic SAF can reduce the climate impact from aviation.