Boom Supersonic: The Strategy for Sustainability

Boom Overture (Rendering), Source: Boom

Boom Supersonic or simply called Boom is developing the supersonic airliner Overture. Their small scale demonstrator XB-1 has been rolled out in October 2020 and the first flight is currently planned for end of 2021 or early 2022. Boom was founded by a team around CEO Blake Scholl. Early investors include the highly successful startup incubator Y Combinator, Sam Altman, Seraph Group, Eight Partners, and others. In 2017, Japan Airlines (JAL) announced to invest USD 10M in Boom. JAL has the option to purchase up to 20 Overture aircraft through a pre-order arrangement. In 2021 United announced that they will purchase 15 of Boom’s Overture airliners, once Overture meets United’s demanding safety, operating and sustainability requirements, with an option for 35 more aircraft. More information about Boom can be found on their website.

We had a chance to talk to Ben Murphy, Boom’s Head of Sustainability Policy.

Thank you for having the opportunity to talk about your approach to sustainability. Can you give our readers some background information about your Sustainability Team at Boom?

While sustainability is built into everyone’s role, Boom has two people focused on sustainability full-time.

Ben Murphy combines his passion for supersonic propulsion systems and the environment as Boom’s Head of Sustainability Policy. Prior to this role, Ben’s career at Boom has been dedicated to propulsion system design, analysis, and testing, with an eye towards sustainability. Ben represents Boom on the International Civil Aviation Organization Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (ICAO/CAEP) noise, emissions, and modeling working groups, supporting creation of global environmental standards. He also serves as the chair for the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA) Supersonic Subcommittee, working with the broader industry to identify and promote common sustainability goals. Ben supports a number of supersonic research efforts including university efforts through the FAA’s Aviation Sustainability Center (ASCENT). Before joining Boom, Ben worked at GE Aviation supporting flight tests and supersonic engine development, including engines used on the F-15, F-16, and new programs. Ben holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and a M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Lourdes Maurice joined the Boom Advisory Board in 2018 after a distinguished career at the FAA, where she retired as Executive Director of the Office of Environment and Energy. At the FAA, Dr. Maurice served as the US member to the International Civil Aviation Organization Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (ICAO CAEP), the international body responsible for developing and coordinating environmental policy for the aviation industry. Previously, Dr. Maurice was the FAA Chief Scientist for Environment and Energy and contributed to the IPCC projects that led to the body’s 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. She holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College, London, and completed undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees at the University of Dayton.

Boom was founded in September 2014 but, according to our research, the term “Sustainability” got added to the navigation menu of your website as late as February 2020. Can you outline what work behind the scenes was done at the time and what priority does sustainability have at Boom now?

Boom has always considered sustainability to be important; indeed it is one of the pillars on which our company was founded. The company established the 3 S’s as pillars of the company: Speed, Safety and Sustainability. Each represents a core principle for the company.

At the root of our mission is a belief that travel is Our CEO has said that it is no use seeing more of the world if you are damaging the planet while you are doing it. Following are some of our core sustainability efforts.

  • XB-1 Engines. As soon as the company began designing XB-1, our supersonic demonstrator, we prioritized sustainability. The earliest engine tests were conducted with nearly 100% SAF, as well as conventional Jet-A fuel.
  • SAF. In June 2019, we formed a partnership with Prometheus Fuel. Overture is being designed to use 100% SAF.
  • 3D Printing. Throughout the build of XB-1, the team has used 3D printing to create tooling and parts as needed, saving the carbon cost for parts transport at minimum, as well as conserving material.
  • Overture design. Overture has been designed to be as fuel efficient as possible, through the use of lightweight composite materials, advanced aerodynamics and the use of SAF.
  • Planning for decommissioning. At the outset, Overture is being designed with an eye toward reuse and recycling of as much material as possible, so that the company can minimize waste occurring at the end of the aircraft’s life.
  • LEED-certified manufacturing site. When Boom begins building its manufacturing facility in 2022, the company will design and build it to meet LEED certification requirements.

In 2020, Boom joined Amazon’s “The Climate Pledge”. Could you elaborate on the motivation behind that decision?

Amazon has recruited a number of industry leaders to commit to net-zero carbon by 2040. We are honored to be the first aircraft OEM to join and are proud to unite with our fellow innovators to cut ten years off the Paris Agreement deadline. We hope over time to be able to share ideas and work together to spur innovation in the sustainability space.

You claim that your development program is “fully carbon neutral, through the use of sustainable aviation fuels and carbon offsetting”. Proponents of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS, where CO2 is absorbed from the air and permanently stored underground) claim that carbon offsetting is simply not enough as a long term solution. Have you looked at CCS and if so, what led to the decision to go with offsetting?

Our intention is to fly at net-zero carbon and use carbon offsets in the short-term. We are eagerly monitoring the development of CCS technology and plan to include CCS as part of our offsetting portfolio to facilitate scaling of this technology.

What other efforts is Boom undertaking to reach net zero emissions during the manufacturing of XB-1 and Overture? How are your suppliers such as Rolls Royce or Collins Aerospace involved regarding sustainability?

Boom is pleased to have partnered with sustainability leaders for our propulsion system, and will continue to prioritize sustainability as we build out our supply chain. Rolls-Royce shares Boom’s commitment to net-zero and 100% SAF. Our work with Collins Aerospace is focused on nacelle weight reduction and noise reducing technologies, another key piece of our sustainability commitments.

United is committed to operate Overture with 100% sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). SAFs are a hot topic in aviation right now with few existing suppliers and many new players entering the market. It’s still early and uncertain that the market will be able to supply enough fuel by the time Overture enters regular service. Does Boom have any saying on how your customers will operate their jets?

Once Overture aircraft are delivered to airlines, they will naturally choose how to operate the planes. However, to date our two major airline partners, JAL and United Airlines, have both invested considerable funds in sustainable aviation fuel and we’ve observed that most airlines are pursuing sustainable flight; that commitment will like accelerate as the US government and the Paris Accord participants increase their emphasis on the development of a robust SAF marketplace by the time Overture enters into service at the end of the decade. Boom will continue to focus on partners and customers who prioritize sustainability and net-zero carbon operations.

Thank you for your time.