How Consumer Groups Promote Sustainability in the Airline Industry: A Case Study on Biofuel

Cooper, John, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Elliott, Travis, EN-STS Dept, University of Virginia
Chelliah, Harsha, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

It’s important for any good engineer to constantly ask themselves why the work they’re
doing is important, and to keep in mind the larger socioeconomic trends that have created the
demand for their skills. The technical component of this thesis project was done with support
from an aerospace company, as well as the university. UVA’s motive for providing funding is
straightforward: supporting innovative research labs promotes industry connections, which in
turn attracts future researchers and enhances the university’s standing in that field. The appeal
for the sponsoring company, though it may seem simple, is much more nuanced. One can easily draw the
link between our research, which studies high-temperature materials and could possibly lead to
jet engine efficiency increases, to an airline’s desire to use less fuel and cut costs, but there’s
more to the story. Over the last fifty years, the airline industry has grown less and less dependent
on fossil fuels and has consistently funded research efforts to reduce carbon emissions, beyond
what would be done if they were motivated solely by financial self-interest.
The STS research portion of this thesis was done to develop a comprehensive
understanding of historical changes in the airline industry, and to determine what forces are most
responsible for the current state of the industry. Additionally, different eco-friendly alternatives
to fossil fuels were examined to find out what it takes to successfully implement a sustainable
solution on a large scale, or, more commonly, why many of the new technologies aren’t quite as
green as they seem.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Sustainability, Airlines, Ceramic Matrix Composite, Social Construction of Technology, Reacting Flow Lab, Aerospace, Materials Science, Biofuels, Green Aviation

School Of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harsha Chelliah
STS Advisor: S. Travis Elliott
Technical Team Members: John Cooper

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