2019 Engine Yearbook

Engineering Help for Climate Change


Anyone observing and listening to worldwide news reports in recent months can hardly have failed to have noticed the increased alarm over climate change. In many countries, politicians and activists – such as the articulate Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg – have been promoting a plan known as The Green New Deal as a way to address climate change.

Aviation remains a central player in the climate debate. The European Commission states that “direct emissions from aviation account for about 3% of the European Union’s total greenhouse gas emissions and more than 2% of global emissions”. And the industry is accused by many of not caring about the amount of emissions it releases.

Well before schemes such as the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS), which started to include aviation in 2012, the aircraft manufacturers and, particularly, the engine manufacturers were continually trying to reduce the amount of fuel burned by aircraft. Of course, there is a financial aspect – the more fuel you burn the higher the total fuel bill – but concern over the level of emissions is certainly not exclusive to those outside the industry.

During this decade, the engines developed for the new versions of the industry’s best selling models – the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families – have introduced a step change reduction in the amount of emissions produced by these types. For larger aircraft, the latest versions of Rolls-Royce’s Trent and General Electric’s GE90 families are also producing far fewer emissions that their predecessors.

The efforts to reduce emissions are constant. Leaving biofuels to one side and concentrating on engineering, only last year Rolls-Royce performed the first run of a demonstrator engine which it designed as the base for future engine programmes. When revealing what it had done, the company emphasized that the demonstrator was “specifically devoted to the optimization of a new lean-burn and low-emissions combustion system”.

Known as ALECSys – Advanced Low Emissions Combustion System – the demonstrator’s role is to prove technology which will then go into more specific development such the Advance3 and the UltraFan demonstrator programmes, the latter being a “geared, scalable design suitable for both widebody and narrowbody aircraft. It is designed to offer 25% fuel efficiency improvement over the first generation of Rolls-Royce Trent engines”. For its first run, ALECSys used an adapted Trent 1000 engine.

The company notes that the lean-burn system of ALECSys will – by delivering more complete combustion of the fuel – lower not just the CO2 emissions but also NOx and particulate emissions, which are often given lesser significance, but are equally important.

Rolls-Royce is not the only engine manufacturer running this kind of development program. In fact, the level of quality in all of its competing engine makers – GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, Safran – means that the drive to retain a leading market position is fierce.

This brings the focus back to the aviation and aerospace industries caring about climate change. Because, although these are all global industry brands, it is important to remember that behind those developments are extremely talented people who have studied and worked incredibly hard to be in positions to make these advances.

Put simple, the more people want to travel, the more need there is for those talented individuals.

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