Following its acquisition of Siemens electric aircraft propulsion activities earlier this year, Rolls-Royce has taken another step towards greener engines via a joint research project with Norwegian carrier Wideroe.
The airline wants to replace its fleet of Dash 8 turboprops with zero-emissions aircraft from 2030, an ambitious target whose achievability may well depend on how one defines “zero emissions.”
A strict interpretation might mean an aircraft that uses no fossil fuels, although even Rolls-Royce concedes that electric aircraft will need some form of gas turbine--either for power generation or to supplement electric engines.
“Our major short runway network of local flights in the coastal and northern parts of the country is ideal for electrification, and our abundant access to clean electricity means this is an opportunity we cannot miss. We are determined to show the world that this is possible, and many will be surprised at how fast it will happen,” said Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s minister of climate and environment.
Wideroe’s research is being supported by the Norwegian government and Innovation Norway.
If viable commercial flights of above 50 seats prove beyond the reach of all-electric aircraft, then some form of hybrid propulsion will be needed, in which case the definition of zero emissions will have to stretch to include carbon offsetting.
Regardless of the eventual solution, Rolls-Royce’s choice of partner airline in significant because Scandinavia is ground zero for the nascent flygskam trend, which describes a reticence to fly due to environmental concerns.
This week SAS chief executive and IATA board member Rickard Gustafson described flygskam as an “existential threat” to airlines, albeit one that will take some time to materialize.
“If we don’t clearly articulate a path to a sustainable aviation industry, it will be a problem,” he told the Financial Times.
To find out more about the technology of electric aircraft see the forthcoming Engine Yearbook 2020.