Imperial College’s multi-million pound research bid to make air travel pollution free

·2-min read
(Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)
(Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

Engineers and scientists at a top London university are working on a radical scheme to find out how to make air-travel pollution free.

They are part of a groundbreaking new research institute launched by Imperial College London which is dedicated to finding a way to stop flying from damaging the planet.

A former student has donated £25million – one of the largest gifts in the college’s history - to help create the Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation, which officially opened last month.

Its aim is to pioneer technologies that will create clean, safe and sustainable air-travel.

Researchers will examine all elements of air transport, from fuel and aircraft design to airport infrastructure, air traffic control and aviation policy.

One of the first things they will look at will be the development of low pollution propulsion technologies, and the associated developments in engines, aerodynamics and fuels systems needed.

Professor Paul Robinson, head of the department of Aeronautics, said: “Achieving net-zero flight will require a radical shift across the whole system of aviation. There is much to do and not much time, but there is a will and determination being shown across the sector and beyond. Through this Institute, we have the talent, resources and research strength to make this happen.”

Former Imperial College Aeronautical Engineering student Brahmal Vasudevan made the £25million donation, along with his wife Shanthi Kandiah, founder of legal firm SK Chambers.

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said the benefits of the work done at the institute on the “grand challenge” of low carbon flight will be felt for generations.

She added: “We are deeply grateful to Brahmal and Shanthi for their generosity and vision. They have provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to take on one of the greatest challenges in the fight against climate change.”

Mr Vasudevan said: “Moving towards zero pollution is a mammoth task and aviation, in particular, is a complicated sector to decarbonise. Tackling the problem in a systematic and coherent way to achieve the goal of a net-zero, sustainable economy requires high levels of eco-innovation to succeed.”

Aviation accounts for 2.5 per cent of global CO2 emissions but its overall contribution to climate change is higher. This is because air travel does not only emit CO2. Planes also affect the concentration of other gases and pollutants in the atmosphere, which causes warming.

Mr Robinson added: “We know that flying is making a direct contribution to climate change. It also affords us many benefits – it brings people together, supports trade, research, economic growth, medical aid, internationalism, and enables connection between remote and urban areas. Urgent changes need to be made, but we must also ensure that the process is done smoothly, fairly and in a way that maintains the economic and social benefits of flying.”

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