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Canadians are routinely being recognized as world leaders for innovation in aviation – and this also holds true in the realm of green aviation. For this special green issue of Wings magazine, correspondent Peter Pigott spoke with two influential Canadian engineers

July 6, 2011  By Peter Pigott

Canadians are routinely being recognized as world leaders for innovation in aviation – and this also holds true in the realm of green aviation. For this special green issue of Wings magazine, correspondent Peter Pigott spoke with two influential Canadian engineers – and highlighted the environmentally conscious efforts of one prominent Canadian airport – to underscore how innovative thinking is making the reduction of CO2 emissions a real possibility.

Greener skies through unconventional aircraft design: Dr. David Zingg
If there’s anyone in this country capable of designing the next sustainable aircraft, it’s Dr. David Zingg.

Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004, Dr. Zingg has been a professor at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) for 24 years. He is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and currently holds the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation Chair in Aerospace Flight.


Dr. Zingg’s research areas include aerodynamics, computational fluid dynamics and aerodynamic shape optimization. His current research is focused on applying high-fidelity aerodynamic shape optimization to the design of novel aircraft configurations and motivated by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft.


Dr. Zingg has held a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Computational Aerodynamics and Environmentally Friendly Aircraft Design since 2001. He also serves on the board of directors of the Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN).

“The impact of aviation on climate change is a pressing issue,” says Zingg. “Although there remains some uncertainty on the precise figure, the general consensus is that aviation contributes roughly 4.9 per cent of all human contributions to global warming. The industry has targeted a 50 per cent reduction in total carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, and this must be achieved while simultaneously reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides, which also indirectly contribute to global warming, and noise from aircraft.”

Given that there is no single straightforward means of achieving the desired reduction in emissions, says Dr. Zingg, progress is needed on a variety of fronts, which can generally be categorized as operational or technological. And while some progress can be made through changes in the operation of aircraft, significant technological advances are needed to achieve this goal.

For example, emissions can be lowered by improving fuel efficiency through reductions in aircraft drag and weight, by improved combustor designs, and through burning biofuels. Relevant technologies include aerodynamics, materials, structures, combustion and biofuels.

The Vancouver Airport Authority recently launched its Green Team, a committee of employees focused on furthering environmental initiatives and awareness at YVR.


An aircraft is a tightly integrated system with complex interdependencies. When a new technology, such as laminar flow control is introduced, an implementation will often require a redesign of the aircraft to incorporate it in the most efficient manner, says Dr. Zingg. There is also a demand for advanced tools for the design of aircraft.

The need to reduce aircraft drag and weight has also spurred interest in unconventional aircraft, such as truss-braced wings, hybrid wing bodies and box wings, he says. The development and evaluation of such concepts is also dependent on suitable design tools, especially since there exists no body of design experience for these configurations.

The field of multidisciplinary analysis and design has emerged to address the need for efficient and accurate aircraft design tools. In particular, high-fidelity multidisciplinary analysis based on first principles is required for accurate prediction of performance, fuel burn, and emissions of future aircraft. Multidisciplinary optimization (or MDO) is needed to find a true optimum given the integrated nature of the design challenge.

Dr. Zingg and the team at UTIAS are conducting research to develop new techniques for MDO and to apply them to the design and evaluation of novel unconventional aircraft concepts and technologies. High-fidelity MDO requires substantial computing resources, and UTIAS researchers are fortunate to have access to the powerful SciNet computing facilities.

“Advanced MDO capabilities of the type under development at UTIAS will be crucial to the development of future generations of aircraft that will incorporate new advanced technologies,” says Dr. Zingg. “These may involve configurations that are radically different from current aircraft in order to achieve the desired reduction in emissions.

Powering the future with green engines: Dr. William Lin
Developing cleaner engines to power the environmentally astute aircraft of tomorrow is a tremendous challenge – one Dr. William Lin wholeheartedly embraces.

Dr. Lin is an experimentalist in fluid mechanics and fluid-structure interactions. He earned a B.A.Sc. in mechanical engineering from the University of Waterloo and a PhD from the University of Western Ontario. During his graduate studies, Dr. Lin developed a novel wind tunnel to simulate an intense thunderstorm wind pattern that is known to damage ground-level structures. Through a Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITACS) Elevate post-doctoral fellowship, he is currently collaborating with an industrial-academic team to characterize the flow through a new “green” jet engine.

“The aerospace industry is a key sector of the Canadian economy, in terms of dollar value, engineering innovation and the employment of many highly skilled workers,” says Dr. Lin. “To remain competitive with global rivals, Canadian aircraft engine manufacturers must improve products by reducing emissions and fuel consumption. Improving the performance of the compressor – this is one of the core components of an aircraft engine – will help meet increasingly demanding environmental and overall engine performance targets.

As part of its Environmental Management Plan, the Vancouver International Airport has many initiatives in place to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and waste.


With the support of GARDN and MITAC systems, researchers at the Advanced Fluid Mechanics Group from the University of Western Ontario and University of Calgary are collaborating with a major Canadian engine manufacturer to investigate new compressor geometries that reduce weight and improve aerodynamics. The turbulent flow field within two new designs will be quantified by using the Laser Doppler Velocimetry (LDV) technique in full test rigs of the compressor stages, says Dr. Lin.

“It is critical to develop a thorough understanding of the flow field behaviour in that operating region in order to design more efficient stages,” he says. “Design improvements in turbomachinery are largely based on computer simulations that can optimize compressor designs. Unfortunately, while computer simulation is a powerful tool, the unsteady nature and complexity of high-speed flows in rotating machinery severely test the limitations of computational techniques and models.”

The novelty of this research lies in the detailed flow measurements, which will provide accurate and unique experimental data sets for the velocity and turbulence distributions within the flow through two new compressor stages, he says. These results will be used as a benchmark for software performance tests, thereby allowing an understanding of the physical reasons for deficiencies in numerical models and offering guidance for their improvement.

The experiments are currently being designed and will be carried out in 2011. The AFM Group ( research team is based at the University of Calgary and the University of Western Ontario.

Making green everyone’s priority: Vancouver International Airport
The average passenger trolling through the terminals at Vancouver International Airport may not notice the myriad of initiatives in place to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and waste. But as part of its comprehensive Environmental Management Plan, the Vancouver Airport Authority is striving to achieve environmental excellence through the ongoing operation and development of a truly sustainable airport.

The Environmental Management Plan includes a number of programs, plans and initiatives monitored by a department focused on building upon YVR’s reputation as an innovative environmental leader in the aviation industry. In addition, the Airport Authority recently launched its Green Team, an interdepartmental committee of employees focused on furthering environmental initiatives and awareness at YVR.

“The Airport Authority’s dedication is to operating YVR in a sustainable manner that focuses on integrating the environmental, economic and social aspects of our business,” says Anne Murray, vice-president, community and environmental affairs with the Vancouver Airport Authority. “As a community-based organization, we are committed to respecting our natural setting and nearby habitat while leading the way in overall environmental excellence.”

How is it being achieved? Here are just some of YVR’s green initiatives:

  • Reducing energy: In 1999, the Airport Authority created a cross-departmental energy reduction team to identify and implement energy-reducing initiatives. Some examples of energy-conscious initiatives in place include: installing an econo-mode setting on baggage conveyor belts to shut the belts down when no bags are present; installing carbon dioxide sensors to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning according to the number of people in the area; and patenting a black box to regulate electrical power to the flight information display monitors when no flights are scheduled.
  • Since the Energy Reduction Team’s creation, Vancouver Airport Authority has saved more than 24 gigawatt hours of electricity and $5.5 million dollars.
  • Reducing emissions: Reducing emissions on YVR’s Sea Island home is a core focus of the Airport Authority’s commitment to sustainable transportation and connectivity. With thousands of passengers travelling to and from the airport via taxi every year, the Airport Authority introduced an incentive program in 2004 for low-emission taxis as a means to reduce overall vehicle emissions. In 2010, 56 per cent of YVR’s taxi fleet consisted of hybrid vehicles as part of the program.
  • Other emissions-reducing include a $300-million investment in the Sea Island segment of the Canada Line rapid transit system as part of the commitment to sustainable transportation and connectivity.
  • Reducing waste: In 2010, the Green Team spearheaded a unique partnership with Quest Food Exchange, an organization that collects and distributes overstock, mislabelled or near-expiry products that would otherwise go to waste and diverts that food to people who need it. In addition to a $100,000 donation over two years, the Airport Authority continues to rally the entire YVR community to support Quest and thereby divert unnecessary food waste from the landfill; during the last five months of 2010, more than 1,000 kilograms of food was donated.

More green from green
From reducing waste and energy at major Canadian airports to designing greener engines and more efficient aircraft, it’s comforting to see such a proactive approach to building a stonger, environmentally astute aviation sector. As the YVR’s Anne Murray notes: “Doing what’s good for the environment is also good for our community and therefore our business.”


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