Environmental impact assessment of aviation emission reduction through the implementation of composite materials

  • Andrew J. Timmis
  • Alma Hodzic
  • Lenny Koh
  • Michael Bonner
  • Constantinos Soutis
  • Andreas W. Schäfer
  • Lynnette Dray



Carbon-fibre-reinforced polymers (CFRP) have been developed by the aviation industry to reduce aircraft fuel burn and emissions of greenhouse gases. This study presents a life cycle assessment (LCA) of an all-composite airplane, based on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The global transition of aircraft to those of composite architecture is estimated to contribute 20–25 % of industry CO2 reduction targets. A secondary stage of the cradle-to-grave analysis expands the study from an individual aircraft to the global fleet.


An LCA was undertaken utilising SimaPro 7.2 in combination with Ecoinvent. Eco-indicator 99 (E) V2.05 Europe EI 99 E/E was the chosen method to calculate the environmental impact of the inventory data. The previously developed aviation integrated model was utilised to construct a scenario analysis of the introduction of composite aircraft against a baseline projection, through to 2050, to model CO2 emissions due to their particular relevance in the aviation sector.

Results and discussion

The analysis demonstrated CFRP structure results in a reduced single score environmental impact, despite the higher environmental impact in the manufacturing phase, due to the increased fossil fuel use. Of particular importance is that CFRP scenario quickly achieved a reduction in CO2 and NOx atmospheric emissions over its lifetime, due to the reduced fuel consumption. The modelled fleet-wide CO2 reduction of 14–15 % is less than the quoted emission savings of an individual aircraft (20 %) because of the limited fleet penetration by 2050 and the increased demand for air travel due to lower operating costs.


The introduction of aircraft based on composite material architecture has significant environmental benefits over their lifetime compared to conventional aluminium-based architecture, particularly with regards to CO2 and NOx a result of reduced fuel burn. The constructed scenario analyses the interactions of technology and the markets they are applied in, expanding on the LCA, in this case, an observed fleet-wide reduction of CO2 emission of 14–15 % compared to an individual aircraft of 20 %.


Aviation emissions Carbon-fibre-reinforced polymers Composite aircraft Global warming Life cycle assessment 



This study has been carried out independently using the information available in the public domain. The authors wish to thank Bart Moenster, John Baumann and David Heck from Boeing for their motivational support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew J. Timmis
    • 1
  • Alma Hodzic
    • 2
  • Lenny Koh
    • 1
  • Michael Bonner
    • 2
  • Constantinos Soutis
    • 3
  • Andreas W. Schäfer
    • 4
  • Lynnette Dray
    • 5
  1. 1.Centre for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, Management SchoolThe University of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  2. 2.Composite Systems Innovation Centre, Department of Mechanical EngineeringThe University of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  3. 3.Aerospace Research Institute, Faculty of Engineering and Physical SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK
  4. 4.UCL Energy InstituteUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  5. 5.Institute for Aviation and the EnvironmentThe University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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