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Greater climate protection with less weight



The aviation industry needs to tackle its weight problem, according to Carsten Laufs, SVP product innovations and digitalisation at Diehl Aviation

Aviation must cut its fuel consumption. Ultimately, what decides about whether aviation is accepted both by society and politics is the progress made in saving fuel. One key approach being taken is the reduction of weight in the aircraft. The lightweight specialist Diehl Aviation develops relevant innovations that are setting standards.
The industry is working at full speed to find sustainable solutions. For example, the EU Commission’s “Fit for 55” package wants to mobilise billions of euros for low-CO2 fuels. Parallel to that, aircraft manufacturers develop completely new forms of propulsion and aerodynamic aircraft models. However, for now, most of the technologies are either at the development stage or lack realistic market prospects. By developing innovations, aviation suppliers like Diehl Aviation make a considerable contribution towards sustainability: even today, emissions can be significantly reduced through consistent weight savings in aircraft.

The space-saving Airpax combination of galley and lavatory is lightweight and creates space for up to twelve additional passengers – including kerosene reduction per passenger

Light-weight cabin materials
Diehl’s developments focus, among other things, on the lightweight design of the aircraft cabin. The company is one of the world’s leading aviation suppliers. Right from the product design stage, Diehl consistently counts on weight savings, for example, in materials and processes. Carsten Laufs, SVP product innovations and digitalisation at Diehl Aviation, states: “The secret to today’s lightweight design is the continuous optimization of the so-called sandwich concept with honeycomb core.” The honeycomb structure is extremely stable, and yet consists almost entirely of air. It is now crucial to supplement these sandwich design standards with further weight-reducing innovations. Further lightweight cabin innovations include state-of-the-art air outlets, used in single-aisle aircraft, made of particle foam which reduce the weight by about 11 kg, and the powder coating developed by Diehl, used for cabin wall coating, which saves another 3-4kg.

On-board weight reduction
Another approach is known as densification: the less space cabin interiors require, the more room is left for passengers. To this end, Diehl develops the necessary equipment. The best example is a space- and weight-saving combination of galley and lavatory, which creates room for up to twelve additional passengers – and reduces the kerosene requirement per passenger accordingly. What is more, thanks to the use of new connection technologies, this cabin solution is the lightest module in its class.
Another top example is the ECO Grey Water Reuse System. The process involves collecting and treating used water from the hand basin of the lavatory and then using it to flush the toilet. Consequently, the aircraft has to carry less fresh water. For a long-haul aircraft like the Boeing 787, the weight reduction can thus add up to a solid 210 kg. The positive effect on the climate: Calculated over a year, the technology reduces the CO2 emissions of an aircraft by almost 90 tonnes. Currently, the ECO Grey Water Reuse System is being tested in flight on Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator.

Reduce system components
Diehl Aviation’s weight-saving measures extend beyond the cabin. Laufs summarises it as follows: “To achieve the aviation’s ambitious climate protection goals, literally every gram counts. We therefore also research on the reduction of system components in the aircraft in order to save weight.” Water tanks are one example of this. Until now, long-haul aircraft have been equipped with two or three tanks for potable water or wastewater. In the future, Diehl will offer a single-tank solution. This solution alone saves up to 50 kg in aircraft such as the A350.
Further areas are aviation electronics and avionics. Laufs explains: “Simply changing material in order to save weight will reach some limits for these applications. The electronic components must be able to withstand extreme environmental influences, which reduces our options. Therefore, modularity and integration are key success factors.” Weight can be saved by increasing the integration density. Simply put, the latest devices control numerous functions that previously required multiple devices – such as a smartphone which has countless other functions in addition to telephony.

The ECO Grey Water Reuse System collects hand wash water and uses it for toilet flushes, enabling a potable water saving of up to 25 per cent. Thanks to this weight saving, the CO2 emissions of a widebody aircraft under typical operating conditions can be reduced by up to 90 tonnes per year

Enabler for electric flight
In the long term, another factor to contribute to climate protection in aviation is e-mobility. In this context, weight is the relevant success factor because electric flight will not be possible until aircraft are light enough. Accordingly, expertise from Diehl Aviation is in demand. Since 2022, the company supports the aviation pioneer Lilium in the development of its e-jet. Diehl is providing the complete cabin interior, lighting system and air-conditioning ducts for the first all‑electric vertical take-off and landing jet. The Volocopter Volocity and the CityAirbus NextGen will both take off with Diehl’s special, not to mention lightweight, technology.
Diehl wants even more. “The vision is to develop solutions that are another 50 per cent lighter than the status quo,” says Laufs. This not only concerns alternatives to the sandwich structure or new materials but the aircraft as a whole. How do design and individual functions need to be changed in order to fly even lighter and more energy-efficiently? To find answers to these questions, Diehl is carrying out research together with airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and suppliers. One example of this is energy management. Currently, Diehl Aviation is researching how the energy available in the cabin can be optimally distributed and used in order to save further weight.
Recycling is another increasingly relevant issue. In terms of circular economy, what is the best way to realise recyclable system components and cabin elements? Re-usability, alternative materials based on biological resources and the production technologies required for this are important, as is refraining from using certain materials. Which natural materials are suitable to produce equipment that is degradable or recyclable after disposal? Overall, Diehl is involved in more than a dozen research projects regarding this and other sustainability topics.
Diehl’s current and future innovations are significantly contributing to ensuring that new aircraft become lighter and have lower emissions. Laufs concludes: “Lightweight design is not a bet on the future, but is already effective here and now”.

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