Rolls-Royce testing 100% sustainable aviation fuel; all-electric medium-range plane in development

Rolls-Royce is among the most recognizable and respected names in aircraft engine and aviation technology. Worldwide, Rolls-Royce engines power more than 35 types of commercial aircraft, with over 13,000 engines in service. As such, the British aerospace engine maker plays a key role in the industry’s management of its overall emissions in order to contribute to the mitigation of global climate change.

Recent developments with the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) have helped Rolls-Royce get closer to that environmental “holy grail” of zero emissions. It’s currently conducting ground tests with 100% SAF to demonstrate Rolls-Royce engines can unlock SAF’s potential to reduce emissions. As part of its ongoing decarbonization strategy, Rolls-Royce uses 100% SAF for the first time in engine ground tests on next-generation engine technology.

The tests will confirm that unblended SAF makes a significant contribution to improving gas turbine engines’ environmental performance. SAF being used in the trials 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% compared to conventional jet fuel, with the possibility of further reductions in years to come.

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

Starting in the coming weeks in Derby in the United Kingdom, 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% 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. These tests aim to show that we can deliver real emissions reductions. If SAF production can be scaled up—and aviation needs 500 million tons a year by 2050—we can make a huge contribution to our planet.”

Gene Gebolys, CEO and founder 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,” said Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce chief technology officer.

“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,” Theye Veen, SkyNRG managing director, added.

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. 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 net-zero test emissions, reinforcing how multiple measures are essential if aviation is to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions,” said Anna Mascolo, president of Shell Aviation.

The AlecSys program is supported by the European Union via Clean Sky and in the United Kingdom by the Aerospace Technology Institute and Innovate UK; the 100% SAF testing program is additionally supported by ATI, iUK, and Gulf Aviation.

Going all-electric for sustainable energy

Rolls-Royce, however, isn’t stopping at SAF. It has also recently announced a partnership with Italian aeronautics manufacturer Tecnam to develop the P-Volt—an all-electric, twin electric motor, short and medium-range passenger aircraft designed for maximum versatility and safety, powered by renewable energy.

The P-Volt will benefit from Tecnam’s achievements in the 11-seat category aircraft. Moreover, the P-Volt will be the first commercial 9-passenger, cargo, medical evacuation, and particular mission aircraft to be electrified directly by the manufacturer.

The Tecnam P-Volt propulsion system and avionics will be specifically targeted at commercial operations. All-electric motors, avionics, heating, air conditioning, and state-of-the-art de-ice/anti-ice systems will provide fully sustainable and pollution-free transportation.

Dedicated battery technology will ensure full power availability for quick turnaround times between landing and take-off. The propulsion system’s benefits also extend to reducing the aircraft’s operating costs and noise emissions for a more accessible and comfortable transportation system.

Rolls-Royce and Tecnam are already in partnership with the H3PS project—a parallel hybrid electric version of the P2010 four-seater, pairing the electric motor from Rolls-Royce with a combustion engine from Rotax.

“Tecnam is proud to announce the P-Volt design and development. We all need to commit our efforts towards systems that contribute to decarbonization. By combining efficiency and renewable energy into the futuristic propulsion system, we will not only reduce costs, but also grant a greener future to our passion for flying,” said Paolo Pascale Langer, Tecnam CEO.

Rob Watson, director for Rolls-Royce Electrical, said: “Rolls-Royce is committed to delivering the electrification of flight and to support the decarbonization of aviation. This new partnership with Tecnam will strengthen our existing relationship, further developing both companies’ capabilities. We are delighted to work with all the partners on a program that has the potential to develop the technology to make a significant leap in the commuter market.” (Story and photos courtesy of Tecnam and Rolls-Royce)