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Drone Displays, Fireworks and the Environment

As Burnie replaced fireworks with a drone display on New Year’s Eve, it raises the question, are drones better than fireworks?

We’re very lucky to live in a country where we have options to celebrate with both options, knowing they’re delivered to the highest of safety and environmental standards. 

While drone displays have environmental advantages over fireworks, they still require electricity to operate, and the production and disposal of drones can have their own environmental impacts.

However, when considering environmental factors, drones are generally considered a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional fireworks displays. But that’s not the only thing to consider. There are both direct and indirect emissions starting from the extraction of minerals through the full lifecycle of the fireworks or drone. 

Here are some of the key conasiderations…

Environmental Friendliness

  • Reduced air pollution: Drones do not emit  particles into the atmosphere, unlike fireworks.
  • Lower noise pollution: Drone displays are quieter and less disruptive to both people and wildlife.
  • Minimal debris and litter: Drones do not leave behind debris or litter, making cleanup easier. However, drones have fallen in to water before and are hard to retrieve.
  • Energy use (and also carbon footprint): both drones and fireworks require transportation and power (either to ignite or to fly), so while energy use is a consideration for both, and bigger fireworks displays around the world would be using a lot more energy, in Tasmania, our ignition energy at least is renewable. Transport will still be using fossil fuels.

Safety

  • Lower fire hazard: Fireworks can start accidental fires, but drones do not pose the same risk.
  • Reduced risk of injuries: Fireworks can cause injuries to people handling them or spectators, whereas drones are operated remotely, minimising the risk of injuries. Ultimately, strong safety standards in Australia, mean fireworks are very safe when handles by professionals. 
  • Both fireworks and drone displays require exclusion zones where they do not operate near people. Drone swarm displays can require a larger exclusion zone but it is site specific.  They’re also less likely able to operate in dodgy weather. 

Precision and Control

  • Customisable displays: Drones can be programmed to create intricate and precise aerial light shows with various shapes, colours, and patterns.
  • Controlled choreography: Drones can execute complex maneuvers with precise timing, allowing for synchronised and dynamic performances.

Reusability

  • Drones can be used for multiple displays and events, reducing the need for constant production and disposal, unlike fireworks which are single-use items.

Weather

  • Drones can perform both indoor and nighttime displays although both fireworks and drones have limitations being impacted by weather conditions such as rain, heavy winds or mist. 

Versatility

  • Various applications: Drones can be used for entertainment, advertising, art installations, search and rescue missions, surveillance, agriculture, and more.
  • Compatibility with multimedia: Drones can be integrated with music, augmented reality, and other technologies to create immersive experiences.

Reduced Risk to Wildlife

  • Drones are generally less likely to disturb or harm wildlife compared to the loud noises and bright lights of fireworks displays. 

Accessibility

  • Drones can be operated remotely, making them accessible even in areas where it may be challenging to set up fireworks.

Innovation

  • Drones are a rapidly advancing technology, allowing for continuous innovation in aerial displays and performances.
  • Fireworks displays continue to integrate both lighting and projection to complement their displays and find ways of innovating their displays using landmarks.
  • Innovation still occurs with both just in different ways. 

What about the carbon footprint?

Then there’s the biggest challenge we all face as global citizens, and that’s our carbon footprint affecting climate change.

Fireworks displays can contribute to carbon emissions, although the exact amount can vary depending on several factors, including the size and scale of the display, the types of fireworks used, and the duration of the event.

Traditional fireworks contain various chemicals that, when ignited, release gases and particulate matter into the atmosphere and produce carbon dioxide (CO2).

Some fireworks manufacturers produce “green” or low-emission fireworks that contain fewer pollutants and metals that contribute to emissions. With both fireworks and drones, electricity is needed to ignite fireworks or fly the drones. In Tassie, our electricity is mostly renewable so we have the advantage of the display itself being renewable for drones, while some carbon (but not as much as you may think) is released from fireworks.

While it’s very hard to get exact numbers, a fireworks display (not including transport and setup etc that applies to both options) would emit less CO2 than a single petrol car driving for a few hours. It’s all about perspective.

If our focus was purely on the global carbon footprint, the difference is negligible.

There may be a little bit of Tassie in drones and fireworks…

Tasmania is mineral rich, both with traditional minerals such as tin, copper, nickel, zinc and gold, but also has a range of rare earth metals that are being included in the energy transition and digital age such as Lanthanum, Cerium, Yttrium and Neodymium.

The origin of where these minerals come from is important. In a state such as Tasmania, we have very high environmental, human and community standards, whereas countries that don’t have those same standards give less consideration for the well-being of people, the communities, their local ecology or the global environment. Choosing items made from minerals from locations where standards are high (like Australia and even more so Tasmania when we combine renewable energy) is always a better choice. Many manufacturers are now tracking the ethics and standards of where the minerals they use come from – and that’s a very good thing!

Fireworks contain various chemical compounds that are carefully formulated to produce colourful and dazzling visual effects when ignited. Some of the minerals and elements commonly used in fireworks include, many of which are mined in Tasmania.

    • Strontium (Sr): Strontium compounds are commonly used to produce red fireworks. Strontium nitrate and strontium carbonate are examples of compounds used for this purpose.

    • Barium (Ba): Barium compounds are used to create green fireworks. Barium chlorate and barium nitrate are typical choices for green colouring.

    • Copper (Cu): Copper compounds are used to produce blue and green colours in fireworks. Copper chloride is often used for blue, while copper sulphate can create green.

    • Sodium (Na): Sodium compounds, such as sodium nitrate or sodium oxalate, are used for yellow colours in fireworks.

    • Potassium (K): Potassium compounds like potassium nitrate are used to create purple or violet hues.

    • Calcium (Ca): Calcium compounds can be used to produce orange colours. Calcium chloride and calcium sulphate are common choices.

    • Lithium (Li): Lithium compounds, such as lithium carbonate or lithium chloride, are used to create red and pink colours in fireworks.

    • Aluminum (Al): Aluminum powder or flakes are used as a fuel to produce bright white or silver flashes and sparkles in fireworks.

    • Magnesium (Mg): Magnesium is another metal that can be used to create white or silvery-white sparks in fireworks.

    • Iron (Fe): Iron filings or powders can be used to produce golden or amber sparks and effects.

    • Antimony (Sb): Antimony sulphide is sometimes used as a glittering agent to create glitter or sparkle effects.

Light display drones, which are used to create visually stunning aerial light shows, typically contain various materials, including metals and rare earth minerals, in their construction. The specific components and materials used can vary among different drone manufacturers and models. Here are some of the common materials that can be found in light display drones:

    • Aluminum (Al): Aluminum is often used for the frame and structural components of drones due to its lightweight and strength properties.

    • Copper (Cu): Copper is used in the electrical wiring and components of drones because of its excellent electrical conductivity.

    • Titanium (Ti): High-strength, lightweight titanium may be used in certain parts of drones to reduce weight and increase durability.

    • Plastics and Composites: Drones, including light display drones, often incorporate various plastics and composites for non-structural components, propellers, and casing materials.

    • Lithium (Li): Lithium-ion or lithium-polymer batteries are commonly used to power drones, including light display drones, due to their high energy density.

    • Rare Earth Minerals:
        • Yttrium (Y): Yttrium can be found in the phosphors of LED lights used in light display drones to create vibrant and colourful light effects.

        • Cerium (Ce): Cerium compounds may be used in the manufacturing of some LED lights for colour enhancement.

    • LED Lights: Light display drones are equipped with numerous LED lights to create dazzling light shows. These LEDs contain various phosphors, semiconductors, and materials to produce different colours and intensities.

    • Electronics: Light display drones contain electronic components, such as microcontrollers, gyroscopes, accelerometers, and GPS modules, to control flight and coordinate the light show.

    • Rare Earth Elements in Magnets: Some drones may use rare earth magnets (e.g., neodymium magnets) in their motor and rotor assemblies to provide efficient and precise control over the drone’s movements.

Are fireworks or drones best?

The choice between drones and fireworks depends on the specific goals and context of an event or display. While drones offer many advantages, they also have limitations, including the need for power sources and airspace regulations that must be considered when planning an aerial show or performance. As for the team in Burnie for New Year’s Eve, the organisers were limited by safety and exclusion zones, so they replaced fireworks with a drone display.

The City of Sydney considered this to replace their fireworks but decided it would not be feasible for such a massive show.

As is the same with most alternatives in life, whether it be hydrogen fuel vs electric power for transport, or choosing to buy locally or imported, or wind power vs solar, it’s often about choosing the best option for the conditions we find ourselves in.

The more informed we can be, the more we can do things in a way that reduces our impact on the environment and climate. Every little decision can help, but the fireworks vs drone debate is a classic example that these decisions depend on what’s available to you at the time and which option best suits your need.

 

P.S. Nice work Burnie, on doing something a little different. The dogs of Burnie are wagging their tails in happiness!

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