A significant first for the aerospace sector has been reached by Rolls-Royce, which is well-known for its massive UltraFan prototype jet engine. This engine has been successfully operated at full power on 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). This announcement represents a significant advancement in the business’s dedication to efficiency and sustainability in the environment.
Claimed to be the biggest and most potent jet engine in the world, the UltraFan has an impressive 140-inch (356-cm) fan with a 64 MW power output. It has shown a maximum thrust of more than 85,000 lb in static tests, and in the 2030s, it may be able to scale up to 110,000 lb for use in narrow-body or wide-body aircraft. But the engine’s geared turbofan with variable pitch fan system is really what’s innovative about it.
This advanced system allows the turbine and fan to operate at their optimal speeds, while carbon composite fan blades can adjust their pitch for each phase of flight. The incorporation of lightweight composites makes the UltraFan 10% more efficient than its predecessor, the Trent XWB, which utilized titanium alloy. Rolls-Royce emphasizes that several technologies developed for the UltraFan can be integrated into existing engines, leading to enhanced efficiency across their product range.
In a significant move, Rolls-Royce has certified all its current civilian engines, including the impressive BR710 business jet engine, as compatible with 100% SAF. The company is making strides toward a greener future, and this certification paves the way for eco-friendly aviation solutions. Notably, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner equipped with Trent 1000 engines is set to embark on the world’s first transatlantic flight powered entirely by SAF.
While international standards currently limit SAF blending to a maximum of 50%, Rolls-Royce’s successful tests and demonstrations could potentially challenge this restriction. Simon Burr, Group Director of Engineering, Technology, and Safety at Rolls-Royce, underscores the importance of this achievement in the industry’s journey toward Net Zero flying by 2050. He estimates that highly-efficient gas turbines, such as the UltraFan running on 100% SAF, could contribute around 80% to achieving this ambitious goal, marking a crucial milestone for both Rolls-Royce and the broader aerospace sector.