- 17 Mar 2021
- Engines - BizAv
With lots of talk about Sustainable Aviation Fuel pushing Business Aviation towards its goal of carbon neutrality, what needs to happen to make it a reality, and what are the leading engine OEMs doing to help with those efforts? Gerrard Cowan discusses...
Business Aviation’s movers and shakers are increasingly focused on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). While the engine manufacturers are working to incorporate the required technology through a range of projects, however, limited production facilities and high costs are viewed as the biggest impediments to wider adoption.
SAF is not new, but interest has grown in recent years alongside the global focus on climate change. Certifications currently cover a blend of 50% petroleum-based Jet A or Jet A-1 fuel and 50% SAF, though there have been tests of 100% SAF-based engines, and a range of efforts are underway to increase its prevalence.
Numerous members of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) “are really focused on environmental sustainability today”, according to Stewart D’Leon, the association’s director for environmental and technical operations.
The NBAA has seen its own work in the area significantly expand, he adds, with D’Leon and his colleagues supporting different initiatives across the industry to promote the SAF message and educate members.
The challenge is not so much in the technical aspects, said D’Leon, with SAF capable of being certified as aviation fuel and providing a 'drop in' solution. Rather, the difficulty is more on the business side, with SAF being much more expensive than traditional fuel. “It needs to be economical for fuel providers to transition their efforts over to SAF,” he acknowledges.
The volumes of SAF produced today are low, notes Megha Bhatia, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing for Rolls-Royce, adding that she believes there’s a need for industry members, governmental regulators and other interested parties to further collaborate to invest and promote the production of SAF.
This, she says, would help to “substantially increase the volumes required to reach our goals of being Net Zero by 2050”.
Bhatia recognizes that fuel producers need firm commitments from customers to support continued investment in SAF production. Rolls-Royce just signed an agreement with Air bp whereby aviation fuel supplied for engine testing at three facilities in the UK and Germany will be a 10% SAF blend.
SAF has become a growing focus for Rolls-Royce. The new Pearl family of engines has successfully run on 100% SAF, with the company committed to ensuring that all of its current Business Aviation engines, and beyond, are compatible with 100% SAF by 2023 (today, all of its Business Aviation engines can operate with a blend of 50% SAF mixed with conventional Jet fuel).
Later this year the company will launch SAFinity, a new service designed to enable customers to make their flights and/or operations carbon neutral. It will initially be aimed at the business jet market, offered for all business aircraft and engines.
It combines independently verified sustainability projects – such as reforestation projects – with a direct investment in SAF to help promote and accelerate SAF use, Bhatia says.
Pratt & Whitney Canada
SAF is “rising on the agenda of business jet operators”, notes Scott McElvaine, Vice President, Business Development & Commercial Services at Pratt & Whitney Canada.
The fact that the fuels were increasingly being discussed at NBAA and EBAA events “...should not be a surprise,” he says. “Business Aviation operators are having to respond to the same conditions driving more sustainable operations across the commercial aviation industry.”
Pratt & Whitney is pursuing SAF-focused work from numerous angles. In 2020, it introduced a Carbon Offset Service for ESP engine maintenance program customers, providing an option to obtain carbon offset credits, with a small fee calculated on the number of hours an operator flies.
Those fees are used to fund independently-certified and monitored sustainability projects that provide meaningful social and economic benefits, in addition to their carbon-offsetting impacts.
The company also has a long history of involvement in testing SAF in engines, including business jet engines like the PW600, at blends of up to 100% SAF. And Pratt & Whitney is working to make its engines ready to operate fully on SAF, including determining any design modifications, and working with regulators to determine definitions and standards.
However, McElvaine also sees the limited supply of SAF today as being the primary barrier to further use of the fuels.
“We need significant investment in production infrastructure to address this, and governments must help create the right incentives for supply and demand,” he argues.
Nevertheless, he sees policy developments in North America and Europe – such as the US ‘SAF Grand Challenge’ and the EU’s ReFuelEU initiative – as promising signs.
Engaged across the SAF space, GE Aviation is involved with research and development, to working with industry bodies, government offices and forums in the US and Europe. Among a wide range of other efforts, the company has demonstrated SAF in numerous engines and is generating and evaluating data to support SAF qualification.
It has also recently joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) “to further advance our ambition to be a net-zero company by 2050, and help the aviation industry decarbonize”, says Gurhan Andac, GE Aviation’s Engineering Leader for Fuels & Fuel Additives.
Andac also underscored the nature of the challenges ahead for SAF, which lie more on the market side than in the technical domain. “There are no technical challenges to prevent greater SAF adoption by operators,” he argues. “All engines made by GE Aviation and CFM International (our 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines) can operate on approved SAF today and in the future.
“The current challenges are market-based, which is why GE Aviation supports policies that incentivise investment in greater SAF production capability and tax credits that promote SAF adoption.”
MTU Aero Engines
Working in the business jet sector through collaborative efforts with Pratt & Whitney Canada, including on the PW300, PW500 and PW800, MTU Aero Engines supports SAF-focussed efforts in a range of areas, according to Fabian Donus, the company’s Innovative Propulsion Director.
For example, it is part of a consortium that aims to develop a power-to-liquid plant in Bavaria, Germany. “We won't be a producer in the end, but we want to give our knowhow; our expertise in engines to that consortium,” Donus says.
The company is a major MRO provider, and has recently launched a service offering ‘pass-off tests’ to customers in its Hanover, Germany facility to reduce their climate impact. MTU has seen three customers opt for this service in the past two to three months, Donus shares.
“While there are currently proposals to introduce SAF mandates at EU level aiming to stimulate the market, the question is how fast this will occur?” he asks. “Because the fuel is so expensive, there are not enough plants being built.
But without plants being built, it remains expensive – it’s a typical ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.
More information from:
GE Aviation: www.geaviation.com
Pratt & Whitney Canada: www.pwc.ca