A partnership of aerospace specialists has launched the world's first in-flight emissions study using 100 percent Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) on a wide-body commercial passenger aircraft. Airbus, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), Rolls-Royce and SAF producer Neste have teamed up to start the pioneering 'Emission and Climate Impact of Alternative Fuels' (ECLIF3) project looking into the effects of 100 percent SAF on aircraft emissions and performance. Findings from the study – to be carried out on the ground and in the air using an Airbus A350-900 aircraft powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines – will support efforts currently underway at Airbus and Rolls-Royce to ensure the air transport sector is ready for the large-scale use of SAF as part of the wider initiative to decarbonise the industry.
DLR research aircraft flies in the exhaust gas stream
Fuel-clearance engine tests, including a first flight to check operational compatibility of using 100 percent SAF with the aircraft's systems, started at Airbus' facilities in Toulouse, France, this week. These will be followed by the ground-breaking flight-emissions tests due to start in April and resuming in the Autumn, using DLR’s Falcon 20-E 'chase plane' to carry out measurements to investigate the emissions impact of using SAF. Meanwhile, further ground tests measuring particulate-matter emissions are set to indicate the environmental impact of using SAF on airport operations.
Both the flight and the ground tests will compare emissions from the use of 100 percent SAF produced with HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) technology against those from fossil kerosene and low-sulphur fossil kerosene. The SAF will be provided by Neste, a leading worldwide supplier of sustainable aviation fuel. Additional measurement and analysis for the characterisation of the particulate-matter emissions during the ground testing will be delivered by the UK’s University of Manchester and the National Research Council of Canada.
SAF as an important contribution to climate-friendly flying
"SAF is a vital part of Airbus’ ambition to decarbonise the air transport industry and we are working closely with a number of partners to ensure a sustainable future for air travel," said Steven Le Moing, New Energy Programme Manager at Airbus. "Aircraft can currently only operate using a maximum 50 percent blend of SAF and fossil kerosene; this exciting collaboration will not only provide insight into how gas turbine engines function using 100 percent SAF with a view to certification, but also identify the potential emissions reductions and environmental benefits of using such fuels in flight on a commercial aircraft."
Patrick Le Clercq, ECLIF Project Manager at DLR, said: "By investigating 100 percent SAF, we are taking our research on fuel design and the climate impact of air transport to a new level. In previous research campaigns, we were already able to demonstrate the soot-reduction potential of between 30 and 50 percent blends of alternative fuels, and we hope this new campaign will show that this potential is now even greater. DLR has already conducted extensive research on analytics and modelling as well as performing ground and flight tests using alternative fuels with the Airbus A320 ATRA research aircraft in 2015 and in 2018 together with NASA."
Simon Burr, Director of Product Development and Technology at Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace, added: "In our post-COVID-19 world, people will want to connect again but do so sustainably. For long-distance travel, we know this will involve the use of gas turbines for decades to come. SAF is essential to the decarbonisation of that travel and we actively support the ramp-up of its availability to the air transport industry. This research is essential to support our commitment to understanding and enabling the use of 100 percent SAF as a low-emissions solution."
Jonathan Wood, Neste's Vice President Europe, Renewable Aviation, added: "We are delighted to contribute to this project to measure the extensive benefits of SAF compared with fossil jet fuel and provide the data to support the use of SAF at higher concentrations than 50 percent. Independently verified analysis has shown 100 percent Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel delivering an up to 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil jet fuel use when all life-cycle emissions are taken into account; this study will clarify the additional benefits from the use of SAF."
DLR is the Federal Republic of Germany's research centre for aeronautics and space. We conduct research and development activities in the fields of aeronautics, space, energy, transport, security and digitalisation. Climate, mobility and technology are changing globally. DLR uses the expertise of its 55 research institutes and facilities to develop solutions to these challenges. Our 10,000 employees share a mission – to explore Earth and space and develop technologies for a sustainable future. In doing so, DLR contributes to strengthening Germany’s position as a prime location for research and industry.
Airbus pioneers sustainable aerospace for a safe and united world. The Company constantly innovates to provide efficient and technologically advanced solutions in aerospace, defence, and connected services. In commercial aircraft, Airbus offers modern and fuel-efficient airliners and associated services. Airbus is also a European leader in defence and security and one of the world's leading space businesses. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions and services worldwide.
About Rolls-Royce Holdings plc
Rolls-Royce pioneers the power that matters to connect, power and protect society. We have pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations by 2030 [excluding product testing] and joined the UN Race to Zero campaign in 2020, affirming our ambition to play a fundamental role in enabling the sectors in which we operate achieve net zero carbon by 2050.
Neste (NESTE, Nasdaq Helsinki) creates solutions for combating climate change and accelerating a shift to a circular economy. We refine waste, residues and innovative raw materials into renewable fuels and sustainable feedstock for plastics and other materials. We are the world’s leading producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, developing chemical recycling to combat the plastic waste challenge. We aim at helping customers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with our renewable and circular solutions by at least 20 million tons annually by 2030.