Imperial College London is establishing a groundbreaking research institute dedicated to developing clean, safe and sustainable air-travel.
Supported by a £25 million philanthropic donation, the Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation will pioneer the breakthroughs and technologies needed to support the aviation industry’s transition to zero pollution.
Its researchers will look at all elements of air transport, from fuel and aircraft design to airport infrastructure, air traffic control and aviation policy.
The £25 million donation – one of the largest in the College’s history – comes from Aeronautical Engineering alumnus Brahmal Vasudevan, Founder and CEO of private equity firm Creador, and his wife Shanthi Kandiah, founder of legal firm SK Chambers.
The gift will make Imperial one of the most significant global centres for sustainable aviation research and follows news that Imperial ranked top of the Research Excellence Framework with a greater proportion of “world-leading” research than any other UK university.
Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “We are deeply grateful to Brahmal and Shanthi for their generosity and vision. They have provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to take on one of the greatest challenges in the fight against climate change.
“The Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation will focus Imperial’s world-class research, recently ranked top in the UK, on the grand challenge of low-carbon flight. Translating scientific breakthroughs for societal benefit is Imperial’s mission, and this Institute will empower our researchers to collaborate, innovate and pursue new ideas across fields. The benefits of this work will be felt for generations.”
Brahmal Vasudevan, who graduated in 1990 with first-class honours in Aeronautical Engineering, is Founder and CEO of private equity firm Creador. His previous support includes a £1.25 million donation to establish the Brahmal Vasudevan Multi-Terrain Aerial Robotics Arena in the Department of Aeronautics, and the gift of a new work of sculpture by world-renowned artist Antony Gormley, expected to be installed at Imperial’s South Kensington Campus in autumn 2022.
Brahmal Vasudevan said: “Moving towards zero pollution is a mammoth task and aviation, in particular, is a complicated sector to decarbonise. Tackling the problem in a systematic and coherent way to achieve the goal of a net-zero, sustainable economy requires high levels of eco-innovation to succeed. Shanthi and I believe that there is no better institution in the world to drive pioneering work in this field, and we are delighted to support Imperial’s efforts.”
Flying is one of the most carbon-intensive ways to travel and CO2 emissions from the industry are anticipated to triple by 2050. Aviation accounts for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions but its overall contribution to climate change is higher. This is because air travel does not only emit CO2; planes also affect the concentration of other gases and pollutants in the atmosphere, which causes warming. COP26 saw the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition agree to support measures to reduce the sector’s carbon emissions including through a new global goal and promotion of cleaner fuels and technologies.
Based in the Department of Aeronautics, the Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation will be interdisciplinary in its approach, mobilising expertise from across Imperial’s faculties and research centres.
Priority areas of research will include the development and exploration of new low and zero pollution propulsion technologies and the associated developments in engines, aerodynamics, structures, materials, fuels systems, control and aircraft configuration.
The Institute will provide a rapid evaluation of the potential of emerging technologies across the whole aviation ecosystem and will explore how they can be optimally selected, combined and refined to transition most efficiently to zero pollution flight.
Imperial has trained engineers in aeronautics since the very early days of powered flight and today is home to the UK’s leading Department of Aeronautics.
Professor Paul Robinson, Head of the Department of Aeronautics, said: “Sustainable flight is the next frontier of air travel, and the Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation will be leading the charge.
“We know that flying is making a direct contribution to climate change. It also affords us many benefits – it brings people together, supports trade, research, economic growth, medical aid, internationalism, and enables connection between remote and urban areas. Urgent changes need to be made, but we must also ensure that the process is done smoothly, fairly and in a way that maintains the economic and social benefits of flying.
“Achieving net-zero flight will require a radical shift across the whole system of aviation. There is much to do and not much time, but there is a will and determination being shown across the sector and beyond. Through this Institute, we have the talent, resources and research strength to make this happen.”
The Faculty of Engineering Five Year Strategic Plan commits to harnessing its research to drive the transition to a sustainable zero-pollution economy.