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Rolls-Royce to test 100% sustainable aviation fuel in next-gen engine demonstrator

Photo: Rolls-Royce

As part of its ongoing decarbonization strategy, Rolls-Royce is to use 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for the first time in engine ground tests on next-generation engine technology.

The tests will aim to confirm that unblended SAF makes a significant contribution to improving the environmental performance of gas turbine engines.

The SAF being used in the tests was produced by low-carbon fuel specialist World Energy in Paramount, California, sourced by Shell Aviation and delivered by SkyNRG. This unblended fuel has the potential to significantly reduce net CO2 lifecycle emissions by more than 75 percent compared to conventional jet fuel, with the possibility of further reductions in years to come.

These tests aim to demonstrate that Rolls-Royce's current engines can operate with 100 percent SAF as a full "drop-in" option, laying the groundwork for moving such fuels towards certification. At present, SAF is certified for blends of up to 50 percent with conventional jet fuel and can be used on all current Rolls-Royce engines.

Starting in the coming weeks in Derby, U.K., the ground tests will involve a Trent engine, which also incorporates ALECSys (Advanced Low Emissions Combustion System) lean-burn technology.

ALECSys is part of the UltraFan next-generation engine demonstrator program, which offers a 25 percent fuel saving over the first generation of Trent engines.

"Aviation is a tremendous force for good, keeping the world connected, but we have to do that sustainably," said Paul Stein, chief technology officer at Rolls-Royce. "These tests aim to show that we can deliver real emissions reductions. If SAF production can be scaled up―and aviation needs 500 million [metric] tons a year by 2050―we can make a huge contribution for our planet."

Gene Gebolys, founder and CEO of World Energy, said, "World Energy exists to empower leaders to innovate by providing the world's most advanced low carbon fuels. Rolls-Royce is putting their technological prowess to work to understand how to maximize their potential in engines and we are proud to support them."

Theye Veen, managing director of SkyNRG, added, "This program is a great example of what can be achieved when companies from across the aviation value chain that share an ambition of reducing emissions work together. As a pioneer in SAF, SkyNRG encourages innovative tests like this run by Rolls-Royce."

In addition to supplying the SAF with SkyNRG, Shell Aviation is also providing Rolls-Royce with AeroShell lubricants for the ALECSys engine test program.

"For over 100 years, Rolls-Royce and Shell have worked together to drive aviation's progress," said Anna Mascolo, president of Shell Aviation. "This collaboration brings us one step closer to decarbonizing aviation. As well as the SAF, Shell Aviation will provide offsets using nature-based solutions to make the test net-zero emissions, reinforcing how multiple measures are essential if aviation is to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions."

The ALECSys program is supported by the European Union via Clean Sky and in the U.K. by the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate U.K.; the 100 percent SAF testing program is additionally supported by ATI, iUK and Gulf Aviation.



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