Breakthrough in Sustainable Aviation Technology Redefines Flight

In a huge stride toward a greener future for aviation, GE Aerospace researchers are set to redefine the norms of flight. Empowered by a $4.5 million Phase 2 funding from ARPA-E’s REEACH program, GE Aerospace is embarking on a groundbreaking venture, the FLyCLEEN (FueL CelL Embedded ENgine) project.1

Breakthrough in Sustainable Aviation Technology Redefines Flight

Image Credit: Ivan Marc/Shutterstock.com

This ambitious initiative aims to construct and unveil a 25 kW power generation subsystem—a marvel uniting solid oxide fuel cells with a gas turbine engine, elements both of which support the UK’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) program.2 The amalgamation of these innovative elements promises a trajectory toward flights with net zero CO2 emissions, a prospect that heralds a new era of sustainable aviation.

Not only will sustainable aviation fuel bring countless economic opportunities, including creating thousands of green jobs, but this certainty will allow the industry to harness its full potential, bringing us closer to net zero flying.

Baroness Vere, Aviation and Maritime Minister

Towards Net Zero CO2 Emissions

The main challenge facing aviation is to satisfy the predicted growth in demand for air travel in a way that ensures that the environment is protected,3 and developing new low or zero-emission technology is a major part of going green.

Massively contributing to this green effort is John Hong, a senior combustion research engineer with almost two decades of experience in solid oxide fuel cell technology. Hong and his team are working on a high-efficiency power generation system to significantly reduce carbon emissions, bringing us closer to cleaner skies.

Hong emphasized the transformative potential of this venture, stating:

The integration of fuel cells into jet engine propulsion systems represents a potentially promising hybrid technology for additional fuel efficiency in higher thrust aircraft applications. The use of SAF demonstrates compatibility with lower carbon fuels, offering substantial CO2 reduction benefits.

Revolutionizing Aviation Efficiency

What makes this initiative truly innovative is its unique approach to SAF utilization. In an unprecedented move, the hybrid system utilizes SAF in both the fuel cells and gas turbines. A portion of the SAF is transformed into Syngas to power the fuel cells, while the remainder fuels the gas turbine engine. This ingenious integration of SAF in tandem with fuel cells enhances efficiency and opens new avenues for sustainable aviation.

This pivotal movement in the aerospace industry is not isolated; it is part of a larger movement toward sustainable aviation technologies. GE Aerospace’s ongoing collaborations with ARPA-E have synergized with the CFM RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) program, a testament to their dedication to revolutionizing propulsion efficiency.

The CFM RISE program, a joint venture with Safran, is geared toward delivering a substantial 20% reduction in fuel consumption compared to conventional engines—a leap that could redefine the benchmarks of efficiency in aviation.

This initiative encompasses a spectrum of advancements, including hydrogen-fueled engines, 100% SAF jet engines, and groundbreaking engine architectures like the open fan design unveiled at the Paris Air Show earlier this year.

The implications of GE Aerospace’s work extend far beyond the boundaries of the laboratory. Industries and commercial bodies stand to gain immensely from these innovations. Imagine a future where airlines significantly reduce their carbon footprint, not merely meeting but exceeding environmental regulations.

This breakthrough promises economic benefits by enabling more sustainable aviation practices, potentially lowering operating costs in the long run. Furthermore, it paves the way for collaborative efforts between public and private sectors, fostering partnerships that are instrumental in steering the aviation industry toward its ambitious goal of achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

As GE Aerospace propels us into this new era of aviation, the FLyCLEEN project stands as a testament to the relentless pursuit of sustainable solutions.

References and Further Reading

  1. GE Aerospace to invest up to $20 million in EPISCenter to support hybrid electric aircraft engine development (2023) GE Aerospace. Available at: https://www.geaerospace.com/press-release/other-news-information/ge-aerospace-invest-20-million-episcenter-support-hybrid (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
  2. New measures to support Sustainable Aviation Fuel Industry (2023) GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-measures-to-support-sustainable-aviation-fuel-industry (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
  3. Imperial College London (no date) Green Aviation Research Network | Research groups | Imperial College London. Available at: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/green-aviation/ (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
Bethan Davies

Written by

Bethan Davies

Bethan has just graduated from the University of Liverpool with a First Class Honors in English Literature and Chinese Studies. Throughout her studies, Bethan worked as a Chinese Translator and Proofreader. Having spent five years living in China, Bethan has a profound interest in photography, travel and learning about different cultures. She also enjoys taking her dog on adventures around the Peak District. Bethan aims to travel more of the world, taking her camera with her.

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