Rolls-Royce Says Carbon-Reduction Programs Are Costly But Create Business Opportunities

by | May 24, 2022

Rolls-Royce is on a roll. The United Kingdom-based luxury automaker is aligning its climate goals with those of the Paris agreement and has agreed to limit its temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The company, which also makes aero-engines, will also aim to monitor those throughout its supply chain to ensure they have similar environmental goals. To this end, it plans to be net-zero in its operations by 2030 and be net-zero company-wide no later than 2050. 

Contextually, heat and power contribute 40% of the globe’s CO2 emissions. By 2030, Rolls-Royce aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% compared to its 2019 level through the use of new net-zero and zero-carbon technologies. And by 2050, all of its electricity will be generated from zero-carbon sources. Reaching 90% is feasible but will be costly, and achieving 100% will be difficult, both technically and economically, it says. 

With ‘Net Zero at Power Systems,’ we’re not just taking action to protect the environment. We’re re-aligning our strategy towards eco-friendly energy and propulsion systems. We already see these explicitly as growth opportunities for our business in the coming years,” says Andreas Schell, CEO of Rolls-Royce Power Systems.

What’s it doing to achieve these goals? 

It is starting by improving its operations. But Rolls-Royce realizes that the engines it manufacturers have the potential to bolster the environmental goals of its customers — from energy supply, commercial shipping, heavy land vehicles, and passenger trains. And therein is the opportunity. 

The goal now is to ensure that its engine products can run on sustainable fuels by 2023. It wants to replace 10% of the fuel it uses for civil aerospace with sustainable aviation fuels. 

“The certification means that the new generation of … engines, that currently account for 85% of our sales revenues, will be qualified to run on second-generation bio-fuels and on E-fuels,” says Dr. Otto Preiss, Chief Technology Officer of Rolls-Royce Power Systems.

It’s also designing fuel cell systems for hospitals and data centers — places that need a continuous flow of power. Fuel Cells use hydrogen and other fuels to create electricity. They can be used to compensate for voltage fluctuations or to provide backup power. 

The company’s engineers are also working on providing hydrogen and methanol to power engines. And they are working on decentralized solutions such as microgrids and battery storage. 

Rolls-Royce also supports the Advisory Council for Aviation Research to reduce new aircraft CO2 emissions by 75% by 2050. Furthermore, it says that it has taken a significant step toward its net-zero goals by using synthetic diesel fuels in power generation applications. In other words, by using biomass-to-liquid, hydro-treated vegetable oil, and power-to-liquid fuels, it can replace conventional diesel fuel. 

Hydro-treated vegetable oil, for example, is produced from renewable raw materials. Rolls-Royce says that advantages of using it include clean combustion with a reduction in particulate emissions of up to 80%, nitrogen oxide emissions by an average of 8%, and CO2 emissions by up to 90% compared to fossil diesel.

“There is already a lot of interest in hydro-treated vegetable oil in particular from many customers in the energy industry and data center business, who want to improve their carbon footprint,” explained Tobias Ostermaier, president of the Stationary Power Solutions business unit at Rolls-Royce Power Systems. “The results from pilot customers show a significant reduction in greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxide, and particulate emissions by using hydro-treated vegetable oil instead of fossil diesel.”

The Results

Rolls-Royce estimates that its total direct and indirect greenhouse gases in 2019 represented 0.6% of global man-made CO2 emissions. It says that much of its emissions are tied to its suppliers, particularly the extraction of fossil fuels and the associated emissions when its products are sold. 

”We believe that the call for power to be more sustainable and net-zero carbon will be stronger than ever as we emerge from the aftermath of the pandemic and look to build back better,“ says the annual report.

”We are a science-led business, and the science tells us that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, society must limit global warming to 1.5ºC by the end of this century,“ it adds. ”We operate in some of the most carbon-intensive sectors – transport, energy and the built environment – and the use-phase emissions generated by our products are substantial, typically more than 99% of the product life cycle, due largely to the carbon composition of the fuel combusted when an engine is in service.

“We believe in the primacy of technological innovation to create long-term solutions to the climate crisis, and we remain focused on delivering the breakthroughs society requires of us as technology leaders. Our priority is the development of technical solutions that can directly abate or remove carbon emissions, permanently,” it concludes.  

With that, it expects its Bristol, UK production site to be carbon-neutral this year. It will not use carbon offsets to achieve this — a controversial technique that allows companies to buy “credits” instead of investing in new technologies. The credits would be used for such things as planting trees or saving rainforests. What else?

— It expects to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its operations and facilities by 2030; 

— It is committed to designing products that be compatible with net-zero operation by 2030. It says that all of its products will be  compatible with carbon neutrality by 2050. 

— It expects to make aero-engines compatible with sustainable fuels by 2023; 

— It expects that the majority of its power systems engines to be ready for sustainable fuels by 2023; 

— It will recover and recycle 68% of the material within its operations. 

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