Rolls-Royce Completes SAF Testing on Engine Compatibility

A Virgin Atlantic plane flying, and Rolls-Royce successfully completes 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel test program, which Virgin uses SAF from the company.

(Credit: Virgin Atlantic)

by | Nov 15, 2023

Rolls-Royce is going all in on sustainable aviation fuel, completing compatibility testing of SAF on all its in-production civil aero engine types.

The testing, which involved a variety of ground and flight tests to replicate in-service conditions, confirmed the use of 100% SAF does not affect engine performance.

Rolls-Royce completed a ground test of a SAF blend with Virgin Atlantic earlier this year in the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 airplane engine, which the companies plan to use on a transatlantic flight. The test represented a big step forward for the aviation industry,as SAF has the potential to significantly reduce emissions compared to traditional jet fuel.

SAF Technology

Rolls-Royce made a commitment in 2021 to demonstrate there are no technology barriers to using 100% SAF. The test regime was completed after a ground test on a BR710 business jet engine at the company’s facility in Canada. Other engines have been tested as part of the program, including the Trent 700, Trent 800, Trent 900, Trent 1000, Trent XWB-84, Trent XWB-97, Trent 7000, BR725, Pearl 700, Pearl 15, and Pearl 10X. Plus, Rolls-Royce ran its new generation UltraFan engine demonstration on 100% SAF.

“Becoming the first jet engine manufacturer to publicly confirm all our in-production engines for long-haul aircraft and business jets are compatible with 100% SAF, is an important milestone for both Rolls-Royce and the wider aviation industry,” Tufan Erginbilgic, CEO of Rolls-Royce plc, said in a statement. “It’s also further evidence of our commitment to becoming a net zero company by 2050 and supporting our customers to do the same.”

Later this month, the company’s Trent 1000 engines will be used for the first transatlantic 100% SAF flight on a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787. The flight project, which is sponsored by the Department of Energy, also involves Boeing, the University of Sheffield, Imperial College London, and Rocky Mountain Institute. The return flight will use regular jet fuel and prove the engine can run on either fuel type. Virgin Atlantic was recently granted a permit by the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority to conduct the flight.

“The world’s journey to (decarbonizing) flight is powered by British innovation and backed by the U.K. Government, meaning people can continue to travel how they want, in a way that’s fit for the future,” said U.K. Transport Secretary Mark Harper. “Today’s news demonstrates that Rolls Royce and the U.K. are global leaders in (decarbonizing) transport, taking us one step closer to Jet Zero.”

Support for SAF

SAF has brought about excitement from the aviation industry for the potential for decarbonization, and the International Air Transport Association estimates the net carbon lifecycle emissions of unblended SAFs are up to 80% lower than conventional fuel. 

Rolls-Royce is also one of several founding members of the Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA) alliance, which aims to accelerate zero-carbon aviation, especially by increasing the use of hydrogen. EasyJet, Airbus, Ørsted, GKN Aerospace, and Bristol Airport, are also part of HIA.

Plus, JetBlue and Shell Aviation announced at the start of the year a new collaboration aimed at bringing more SAF to Los Angeles International Airport.

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