Sustainable Materials for Aerospace and Aviation Decarbonization

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Materials for aerospace and aviation encompass a range of advanced materials with exceptional properties that meet the demanding requirements of aircraft and spacecraft design and operation. These materials are crucial for improving fuel efficiency, reducing weight, enhancing safety, and enabling the development of next-generation aircraft and spacecraft.

Impact on climate action

Sustainable Materials for Aerospace and Aviation Decarbonization within Advanced Materials advance climate action by reducing the environmental footprint of air travel. By developing lightweight, durable, and fuel-efficient materials, these innovations decrease emissions, enhance energy efficiency, and accelerate the transition towards sustainable aviation, mitigating the sector’s contribution to climate change.

Underlying
Technology

  • Lightweight and High-Strength Materials: Aerospace and aviation applications require materials that are both lightweight and strong to reduce fuel consumption and improve performance. Examples include:
    • Carbon Fiber Composites: Carbon fiber composites offer exceptional strength-to-weight ratios and are widely used in aircraft structures, such as fuselages, wings, and tail sections.
    • Titanium Alloys: Titanium alloys are strong, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant, making them suitable for various aerospace applications, including engine components and landing gear.
    • Aluminum Alloys: Aluminum alloys are lightweight and relatively inexpensive, making them a common choice for aircraft structures.
  • High-Temperature Materials: Materials used in aircraft engines and other high-temperature applications must withstand extreme heat and harsh environments. Examples include:
    • Nickel-Based Superalloys: Nickel-based superalloys offer high strength and creep resistance at elevated temperatures, making them suitable for turbine blades and other engine components.
    • Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMCs): CMCs are lightweight and have excellent high-temperature properties, making them promising for use in hot sections of aircraft engines.
  • Functional Materials: Functional materials with specific properties, such as thermal management materials, radiation shielding materials, and self-healing materials, are used in aerospace and aviation applications to improve performance and safety.

TRL : 6-9 (depending on the specific material and application)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Composite Materials: Researchers are developing new composite materials with improved strength, stiffness, and damage tolerance, as well as exploring the use of bio-based and recycled materials in composites.
  • High-Temperature Materials Development: Innovations in high-temperature materials, such as new nickel-based superalloys and CMCs, are pushing the boundaries of temperature resistance and performance.
  • Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace Components: 3D printing is being used to produce complex and lightweight aerospace components with reduced lead times and material waste.
  • Self-Healing Materials: Self-healing materials are being explored for use in aircraft structures to improve durability and reduce maintenance costs.
  • Smart Materials and Structures: Smart materials, such as shape memory alloys and piezoelectric materials, can be used to create adaptive structures that respond to changing conditions, improving aircraft performance and efficiency.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Lightweight Composite Innovations
  • Advancements in Carbon Fiber Composites
  • Next-Gen Titanium Alloy Applications
  • Aluminum Alloy Developments for Aerospace
  • Cutting-Edge Nickel-Based Superalloys
  • Revolutionary Ceramic Matrix Composites
  • Functional Materials for Aerospace Efficiency
  • Bio-Based and Recycled Composite Solutions
  • Novel Additive Manufacturing Techniques
  • Self-Healing Materials for Aircraft Durability
  • Smart Materials for Adaptive Structures
  • 3D Printing in Aerospace Components
  • Electric Aircraft Composite Technologies

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Relativity Space:
    • Technology Enhancement: Relativity Space is revolutionizing aerospace manufacturing with its innovative approach to 3D printing large-scale rockets and space launch vehicles.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Relativity’s proprietary Stargate 3D printers can produce complex rocket components with minimal labor and tooling, offering significant cost and time savings compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Relativity targets the space industry, providing affordable and customizable launch services for satellite deployment, cargo resupply missions, and exploration endeavors.
  • Boom Supersonic:
    • Technology Enhancement: Boom Supersonic is developing the Overture supersonic passenger airliner, designed to travel at speeds faster than sound while utilizing advanced materials and aerodynamic technologies.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Boom’s Overture aircraft aims to revive supersonic air travel with a focus on efficiency, comfort, and sustainability, offering reduced flight times and increased accessibility for long-haul travel.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Boom Supersonic targets the commercial aviation market, catering to business travelers and high-end passengers seeking faster and more luxurious air travel options.
  • Joby Aviation:
    • Technology Enhancement: Joby Aviation is pioneering electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for urban air mobility, utilizing advanced materials, electric propulsion systems, and autonomous flight technologies.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Joby’s eVTOL aircraft offer quiet, emissions-free, and efficient air transportation solutions for short-to-medium range urban commutes, reducing congestion and improving mobility in metropolitan areas.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Joby Aviation targets the emerging market for urban air mobility, providing on-demand air taxi services for commuters, travelers, and transportation networks in densely populated cities.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT is at the forefront of materials research for aerospace and aviation applications, focusing on lightweight, high-strength materials and advanced manufacturing techniques.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often involves the development of innovative materials, such as carbon composites, ceramic matrix composites, and high-temperature alloys, tailored to withstand extreme conditions encountered in aerospace environments.
    • End-use Applications: MIT’s work has implications for aircraft structures, propulsion systems, and space exploration. For example, they’re researching lightweight composite materials for aircraft fuselages and wings, as well as heat-resistant materials for hypersonic vehicles and spacecraft re-entry shields.
  • Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford’s research on materials for aerospace and aviation emphasizes the integration of materials science, mechanical engineering, and aerospace design to optimize performance and efficiency.
    • Uniqueness: They are known for their work on multifunctional materials and coatings that provide enhanced durability, corrosion resistance, and thermal management capabilities for aerospace applications.
    • End-use Applications: Stanford’s research finds applications in aircraft structures, engine components, and satellite systems. For instance, they’re developing self-healing materials for aircraft composites, advanced coatings for reducing ice buildup on wings, and lightweight alloys for additive manufacturing of rocket components.
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech):
    • Research Focus: Caltech’s research on materials for aerospace and aviation encompasses fundamental studies of material properties, as well as the development of novel materials and manufacturing processes for aerospace applications.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often explores materials at the nanoscale, such as nanocomposites and nanomaterial-based coatings, to achieve superior performance and functionality in aerospace systems.
    • End-use Applications: Caltech’s work has applications in aircraft propulsion, structural materials, and space exploration. For example, they’re investigating nanomaterial-based catalysts for more efficient jet engines, as well as lightweight structural materials for space habitats and lunar rovers.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Advanced materials are widely used in commercial aircraft and spacecraft, contributing to improved fuel efficiency, reduced weight, and enhanced safety. For example, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 XWB aircraft utilize a significant amount of carbon fiber composites in their structures, while SpaceX’s Falcon rockets use advanced aluminum-lithium alloys.