Aviation suppliers and manufacturers aren’t letting the COVID-19 pandemic slow their plans for a greener world and are creating new programmes to make the business of flying more environmentally friendly. This week Safran and partner GE Aviation launched with great fanfare a plan to create “sustainable engines”, Airbus announced it was opening “zero-emission development centres” in Germany and France, Pratt & Whitney will also discuss its green plans on Wednesday (16 June) and Rolls-Royce is set to discuss its “net zero” future on Thursday (17 June).
Safran & GE Aviation
GE Aviation and Safran on Monday (14 June) announced in a webcast full of bells and whistles that they were creating a “bold technology development programme” that they hope will result in more than 20 percent lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions compared to current engines. The CFM RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) programme will demonstrate and mature a range of new, disruptive technologies for future engines that could enter service by the mid-2030s. The companies also signed an agreement extending the CFM International 50/50 partnership to the year 2050, declaring their intent to lead the way for more sustainable aviation in line with the industry’s commitment to halve CO2 emissions by 2050.
“The relationship between GE and Safran today is the strongest it has ever been,” said John Slattery, president and CEO of GE Aviation. “Together, through the RISE technology demonstration programme, we are reinventing the future of flight, bringing an advanced suite of revolutionary technologies to market that will take the next generation of single-aisle aircraft to a new level of fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. We fully embrace the sustainability imperative. As we have always done in the past, we will deliver for the future.”
“Our industry is in the midst of the most challenging times we have ever faced,” said Olivier Andries, CEO of Safran. “We have to act now to accelerate our efforts to reduce our impact on the environment. Since the early 1970s, breakthrough engine efficiency and reliability have been the hallmark of our historic partnership and our LEAP engine already reduces emissions by 15 percent compared to previous generation engines. Through the extension of our CFM partnership to 2050, we are today reaffirming our commitment to work together as technology leaders to help our industry meet the urgent climate challenges.”
Technologies developed as part of the RISE programme will serve as the foundation for the next-generation CFM engine that could be available by the mid-2030s. The programme goals include reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by more than 20 percent compared to today’s most efficient engines, as well as ensuring 100 percent compatibility with alternative energy sources such as Sustainable Aviation Fuels and hydrogen.
Central to the programme is state-of-the-art propulsive efficiency for the engine, including developing an open fan architecture. This is a key enabler to achieving significantly improved fuel efficiency while delivering the same speed and cabin experience as current single-aisle aircraft. The programme will also use hybrid electric capability to optimize engine efficiency while enabling electrification of many aircraft systems.
The program is being led by a joint GE/Safran engineering team that has laid out a comprehensive technology roadmap including composite fan blades, heat resistant metal alloys, ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), hybrid electric capability and additive manufacturing. The RISE program includes more than 300 separate component, module and full engine builds. A demonstrator engine is scheduled to begin testing at GE and Safran facilities around the middle of this decade and flight test soon thereafter.
Airbus Zero-Emission Development Centres
Meanwhile, Airbus announced it has decided to concentrate its efforts for metallic hydrogen tanks in a complementary setup by creating Zero-Emission Development Centres (ZEDC) at its sites in Bremen (Germany) and in Nantes (France). The goal of the ZEDC is to achieve cost-competitive cryogenic tank manufacturing to support the successful future market launch of ZEROe and to accelerate the development of hydrogen-propulsion technologies. The design and integration of tank structures is crucial to the performance of a future hydrogen aircraft. The technology developments will cover the full product and industrial capabilities from elementary parts, assembly, systems integration and the cryogenic testing of the final liquid hydrogen (LH2) tank system. Both ZEDCs will be fully operational by 2023 to build LH2 tanks with a first flight test scheduled for 2025, Airbus said.
Airbus chose its site in Bremen because of its diverse setup and decades of LH2 experience within Defence and Space and ArianeGroup. The ZEDC in Bremen will initially focus on system installation as well as for the overall cryogenic testing of the tanks. Furthermore, this ZEDC will benefit from the wider hydrogen research ecosystem such as the Centre for Eco-Efficient Materials and Technologies (ECOMAT) and from further synergies from space and aerospace activities.
Airbus chose its site in Nantes because of its extensive knowledge in metallic structural technologies related to the centre wing box, including the safety-critical centre tank for commercial aircraft. The ZEDC in Nantes will bring its ability to manage equally a wide range of metallic, composite technologies and integration as well as its experience in codesign activities on nacelle inlets, radomes and centre fuselage complex work packages. The ZEDC will benefit from the Nantes Technocentre skills and capabilities, supported by an innovative local ecosystem such as the IRT Jules Verne.
Airbus last year revealed three concepts for zero-emission commercial aircraft that it believes could enter service by 2035. All of these concepts rely on hydrogen as a primary power source – an option which Airbus believes holds exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel and is likely to be a solution for aerospace and many other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) reported in 2019 that “several factors still hinder a possible use of hydrogen in commercial flights, such as on-board storage, safety concerns, the high cost of producing the fuel and the need for dedicated infrastructure at airports” but said the feasibility of hydrogen propulsion was real and could help the industry cut global emissions. The former Soviet Union actually flew a plane using hydrogen as a fuel in 1988.
“This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen. The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO, when the plan was unveiled in 2020. “I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen – both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft – has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.”