As Airbus expands and improves its product line, the company is focusing on making aircraft that are more fuel efficient, quieter and more environmentally friendly than ever before.
Since 2006, Airbus has reduced volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by nearly 30 percent in Europe alone. This is part of its Blue5 initiative that is striving for improved environmental performance by maximizing the use of eco-efficient technologies and processes at its production sites worldwide.
The Airbus Blue5 Initiative
Blue5 is an initiative that aims to make manufacturing as sustainable as possible. Working according to a five-pronged plan it is committed to:
- Saving energy by reducing energy consumption across the board
- Saving water by making better use of global water resources
- Reducing waste by recycling materials where possible
- Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through innovation
- Reducing harmful VOC emissions by eliminating them at source
The company has made substantial headway in all five environmental areas, using several aircraft to benchmark its achievements. For instance, the spacious and luxurious A380, introduced in 2007, has become the yardstick for low noise levels and fuel efficiency. New-generation jets including the wide-body A350 XWB and the new engine option A320neo, are pushing the envelope even further.
The A350 XWB, introduced less than two years ago, in January 2015, boasts 25 percent lower fuel consumption to its aluminum long-range competitors. The A320neo, which had its maiden flights with different engines in September 2014 and May 2015, is faster than any other jet, and it can cruise at an altitude of up to 39,000 feet.
Airbus Commitment to Reduce VOC Emissions
Once VOCs have been produced, they are extremely expensive, difficult and time consuming to deal with. This is why it’s vital to tackle reduction at source. Not only is this a good environmental solution, but it also helps to reduce potential health risks that could affect humans for a long time.
Statistics released by Airbus show that between 2006 and 2014 VOC emissions based on revenue were reduced by 54.1 percent, and absolute VOC emissions were reduced by 22.9 percent.
The first Airbus production sites to take definitive steps to reduce VOC emissions are all based in Europe. All have focused on specific programs. For example:
- Production sites in Getafe and Puerto Real in Spain have replaced the high VOC methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) with low and zero VOC cleaners.
- The site in Hamburg, Germany has adopted the use of encapsulated spray guns for spot repairs of fuselages in the structure assembly.
- The site in Broughton, UK has replaced the use of high-solids primers with water-based primers to reduce VOC emissions.
- Various French sites have focused on new painting technologies using water-based and low VOC paints.
Replacement of MEK
MEK is a very high VOC product that has largely been replaced by Diestone DLS in liquid form and in wipes used to clean aircraft before sealing. Using wipes results in a decrease of the amount of cleaner used, and because they are packaged in small canisters, unnecessary VOC evaporation is avoided.
In Spain Airbus has gone a step further, and has substituted DLS with A8284, which is a zero VOC product. Initially delivered in liquid form and dispensed in bottles, it is being replaced gradually with wipes at both Getafe and Puerto Real sites.
Airbus reports that the Puerto Real production site has reduced VOC emissions by 1.4 tonnes annually, and the Getafe site by an estimated 3.5 tonnes annually.
Encapsulated Spray Guns Used for Spot Repairs
Spot repairs on aircraft don’t need much paint, and by introducing lightweight encapsulated spray guns, the Hamburg site has reduced its paint wastage by about 90 percent. The guns weigh only 8 kg and have a holding capacity of just 200 ml.
Since a smaller quantity of cleaning products is required for the new spray guns, VOC emissions during the cleaning process have been reduced by 80 percent. A further reduction in VOC vapors takes place via direct suction at source when the guns are in use.
Replacement of High-Solids Primers
The Broughton site is set to reduce VOC emissions by about 3 tonnes a year, by using water-based primers and topcoats instead of high solids paints in its component manufacturing paint booths.
The paint plant has been modified and electrostatic spray equipment optimized for water-based products, introduced. Modifications to mixing and recirculation equipment are being implemented.
New Painting Technologies
The French VOC reduction program has been hugely successful, with reports of a 51 percent drop in VOC emissions at French sites in general. This has been achieved by using:
- new paint technologies
- low VOC and water-based paints
- a base coat/clear coat painting system
- wipes that are pre-impregnated
The program also involves implementing a system that avoids solvent evaporations and uses new technologies for cleaning painting tools, as well as use of a solvent recycler.
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