Rolls-Royce was asked about their opinions about the future of Green Aviation at a recent conference (CogX in London). Their executive officer had exciting thoughts about three key technologies that are currently in play: SAF, Batteries and Hydrogen.

100% SAF flights are coming

Over the past year, Rolls-Royce has been testing its engines on 100% SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel). Airbus has also partnered with them, providing an A380 aircraft, while RR provided the Trent 900 engine. While there have been many thousands of flights using mixes of SAF to this time, the change up to a 100% SAF is intended for the very near future.

SAF presents a challenge to the Aviation industry in that its production is limited. Currently, only about 1% of global aviation fuel requirements can be provided in this form. The point of view presented by this executive is that support from policymakers will be needed to move the needle here and to improve production rates. Mandates and incentives are typical instruments used by policymakers when challenges are as significant as SAF production limitations are indicated. But on the way to demonstrating the capabilities of SAF, United Airlines recently operated a (US) domestic narrow-body passenger flight with one of the two engines powered solely by SAF.

On a near-term basis, SAF may be the best fuel solution for greening aviation, according to this source. As can be seen from the preceding comments, there are considerable challenges facing the industry.

Rolls-Royce’s largest engine ever will be ground tested with 100% SAF. Photo: Rolls-Royce

Hydrogen storage – in flight

Significant improvements in CO2 emissions are foreseen in using hydrogen fuel for aviation purposes. The problem here is that fuel storage needed for long flights cannot be resolved at this time. Further to storing hydrogen on the airplane are other issues of safety and economics.  

Hydrogen combustion solutions will take too long. Photo Rolls-Royce

The Battery Program

Rolls-Royce is much more confident in bringing electrically powered aircraft to market within the near future, perhaps even by the mid-2020s[1]. Recently they demonstrated the world’s fastest all-electric plane.  

While that plane (The Spirit of Innovation) is only a single-seater, the next big push will be to transfer those ideas to a commercial project. 

RR claims that they “expect by the middle of this decade to have Rolls-Royce-powered aircraft with paying passengers, relying on pure electric, to carry a relatively small number of people, who are going a relatively short distance, maybe 10 people for 250 miles or so.”

Spirit of Innovation – Fastest All-Electric Plane. Photo Rolls-Royce

We’re looking forward to seeing a 100% SAF-powered flight across the Atlantic in the next 18 months!