Green ideas take flight Varsity students come up with ideas and plans to promote air travel in the most eco-friendly manner at a global competition. FIRST-TIME flyer Airull Juhari felt his moment of epiphany soon after his 16-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Paris. “It is exciting to be transported to somewhere so different from home,” said the third-year engineering student from Institute of Product Design and Manufacturing, Universiti Kuala Lumpur (IPROM, UniKL) who represented Malaysia at the Airbus Fly Your Ideas (FYI) Competition 2011 last month. If that experience did not kick up the wanderlust in Airull, it certainly added him to the statistics of young people embracing air travel as a mode of transportation. Airbus executive vice-president of engineering Charles Champion was especially interested to engage with the group and had wanted to know if they would ever think that air travel would be a thing of the past over the next 40 years. The response he got was not unexpected. “They’ve said that they expect to travel even more than people do today. However, they also want to travel in a more cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly way,” added Champion during an interview with the online environmental news site BusinessGreen. Sowing green seeds Fuelled by non-renewable energy, air travel is one of the contributors to global warming. A study estimated that a single trans-atlantic return flight emits almost half the carbon dioxide emissions as from all other sources (lighting, heating, car use, etc.) consumed by an average person yearly. Taking heed of the concerns of the future jet-setters, the leading European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has earmarked green air travel and the sustainability of the aviation industry as the key indicators in its development plans. The biennial Airbus FYI was launched in 2008 by the company to seek out university students worldwide for their innovative ideas on how to build a sustainable green aviation industry. Tom Enders, Airbus President and CEO, said: “Innovation is the essential ingredient for maintaining our industry’s license to grow, and the Fly Your Ideas competition is a unique opportunity for students worldwide to promote their ideas for the sustainable future of flight. “ It is also a strong lever to engage with the next generation of talent who will push the limits of research and technology further.” A team of multinational students from Queensland University, Australia, won the inaugural Airbus FYI with their proposal to use natural fibre composite made from castor plants in aircraft cabins. The competition returned this year with its new theme — The Environmental Life Cycle. Students participated in teams of three to five members and they were encouraged to propose an idea related to one stage of the aircraft’s design from its design, supply chain, manufacturing, aircraft operations or aircraft end-of-life. Teams shortlisted for the second round developed their ideas with support from the Airbus employees while only five teams were chose for the final presentation held during the International Paris Air Show last June. The Kapok Tree factor Calling themselves Msia on Mars, the Malaysian team’s ultimate mission is to venture on an outer space exploration but they were brought down to earth to enter the final round of Airbus FYI by the humble kapok tree Ceiba petandra. In their entry proposal, Airull, together with his teammates Ahmad Khairi Ahmad and Wan Nor Hami Wan Isa recommended that the glass fibres in aircraft thermal insulation blankets be replaced with fibres from the kapok tree. “The people of South East Asia have been sleeping on pillows with the fibres from the tree for centuries. “We decided to use something from our backyard to build a greener aircraft,” said team leader Ahmad Khairi, 28. With the guidance from their lecturer Assoc Prof Abu Hanifah Abdullah and Airbus mentor Octavio Hernandez Gonzalez, the team conducted a series of tests to demonstrate the viability of their natural fibre solution in terms of its thermal and acoustic proportis as well as it being compliant with flammability airworthiness requirements. “The fibres from the kapok tree are highly flammable. The material must be treated with fire retardant solution before it is safe to be used in aircrafts,” explained Ahmad Khairi. As Gonzalez is based in Spain, the team communicated weekly with him via Skype. He joined them in Paris during the final presentation round. “I am really glad that the students made it this far in the competition as they had worked very hard for the project.” said Gonzalez who supported the students by helping them with their research for the presentation. Prior to their departure to Paris, the students had a pre-presentation round with Malaysia’s Angkasawan and former Airbus FYI judge Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. “We realised that our team was not so strong on presentation. The session with Dr Sheikh was very helpful as he gave us his feedback and pinpointed how we could bring forth our ideas more convincingly,” said Ahmad Khairi. The final battle commenced on presentation day and Msia on Mars were pitted against other teams from China, India, Chile, and Sweeden. Displaying Malaysian-style geniality, Ahmad Khairi and his teammates presented the panel of international jury members with little pillows sewn with the kapok tree fibres. Months of preparation put the students at ease on stage but the ultimate challenge culiminated during the question-and- answer session when the students were grilled by the panel consisting of senior leaders in the aviation industry. The jury probed into the sustainability of the kapok fibres as they asked about the cost-effectiveness of the project and the environmental impact of planting kapok trees. “I was tongue-tied at first when the jury posed the question. My first thought was on the fact that the trees are widely grown in South East Asia, I then explained this to the judges and mentioned about how we estimated the cost of implementing this project,” said Ahmad Khairi after the presentation. “The jury members actually asked very good questions that got us thinking as to how we could make our proposal more comprehensive,” added Wan Nor Hami. Making strides Nature was also behind the inspiration for the idea proposed by the youngest team in the finals, team O3 from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. “Pour some water on a lotus leaf and the droplets will slide off. We wanted to create something similar on the surface of the aircraft to prevent icing prior to takeoff,” elaborated team leader and polymer science student Gowri Shankhar Suresh, 19. The solution suggested by O3 comes in the form of water-repelling polymer coatings which has strong adhesive strength and can withstand the aircraft operating environment. “Aircraft weight will be reduced as it no longer needs to carry aircraft de-icing products and anti-icing equipment with the use of this water- repelling polymer,” said Suresh. Another team which focussed on the aircraft design was team Condor from Chile from Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria. Being the few female students in the finals, team leader Nicole Batarce commanded attention when she walked the jury members through the intricate technical details of their proposed energy recovery speed brake model. The 21-year-old cyber engineering student certainly knew her stuff well as airplanes had been her object of fascination since she was a little girl. Teammates Hans Schuler and Javier Gonzalez jokingly called her “The Boss”. “Our idea would help the aircraft conserve energy as the blades rotate and generate electrical energy to provide certain auxiliary power functions and facilitate ground operation,” explained Batarce. Meanwhile, team SSE from Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden, brought a totally different concept to the fray. Targeting frequent flyers, the multinational team introduced the formulation of an ECO point scheme on the Internet as a measure to promote environmentally-friendly flying. “We believe that knowledge empowers travellers to make the best decision. The power to protect the Earth is in their hands by choosing to fly with the airline with the most environmental friendly practice,” said team member Stuart Turkelson, 34. Under their proposal, the scheme which will also be available on mobile phone applications feeds travellers with reviews of the carbon footprints of the different airlines, starting from aircraft operation, maintenance and end-of-life disposal. “Try to imagine this scheme as the hotel review sites that travellers frequent. The system we are proposing creates a win-win situation which rewards both the airline and the traveller,” said Turkelson who is currently doing his Master’s degree in management. Wings of Phoenix from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China, emerged the top team in the competition. Overcoming the language barrier, the team gave an immaculate presentation on their suggestion of a ground-based wind power generation system derived from aircraft wakes. “It was a quiet afternoon in the classroom when I thought about this idea to make use of the energy generated from wake turbulence,” said team leader Zheng Xinyuan. “Just imagine the amount of energy that can be conserved as the power generated can be channelled back to the airport,” added the aeronautical design student. To capture the energy, the team proposed the placement of a series of leaf-shaped devices with electro-mechanical designs along the sides of airport runways. Judges were very impressed with the innovative idea. “It was a difficult deliberation to select the winner from the five teams. The Chinese team had a little edge over the rest because they presented a very well thought out plan taking factors such as weather and airport safety regulations into consideration,” said jury member Barbara Cassani who was the founder and chief executive officer of the United Kingdom-based low cost airline Go. Emirates Airline senior vice-president Andrew Parker who sat at the jury panel even jokingly said that airlines could start charging airports for the electrical power they were generating. Wings of Phoenix brought home the cash prize of ‚30,000 (RM129,000) while the runner-up, team Condor from Chile collected ‚15,000 (RM64,300). The video prize winner was team Ecolution from Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain. The competition drew entries from more than 2,600 students from 75 countries, representing 287 universities. The organisers also announced during the prize presentation ceremony that all the winners and finalists would be awarded internships at Airbus. Although Msia on Mars did not pick up any prize, Ahmad Khairi said the experience entering the finals was one big eye-opener to him and his teammates. “It was exciting to be able to visit the international air show and there was so much we learnt apart from aircrafts. “Before the presentation, participants are coached on how to speak to corporate figures and the press. I would say that the public relations skills that we learnt would definetly come in handy in the future,” he said.
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