Front and center at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow are technologies to help reduce CO2 emissions from flight. At GE, there are technologies already available now to help customers decarbonize even as engineers are developing the new breakthrough technologies for the future of flight.
One such technology ready now is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), an alternative fuel with a lower lifecycle carbon footprint. All GE and CFM International* engines can operate on approved SAF today, and GE is supporting industry initiatives to approve and adopt 100 percent SAF that doesn’t require blending with conventional jet fuel.
Below is a recap of the top five SAF milestones GE has reached over just the last year. GE’s experience goes back much further, since the company first started assessing and qualifying SAF in 2007.
- The first 100% SAF passenger flight
On December 1, United Airlines operated the first experimental flight with passengers using 100% SAF in one of the two CFM LEAP-1B engines. But the more than 100 people on board from Chicago to Washington, D.C., weren’t the only unique thing about the flight. As Gurhan Andac, GE’s engineering leader for fuels explains, the historic flight was also important for efforts to increase SAF above the current blending limit of 50%.
Currently, SAF approved for use is a blend of petroleum-based Jet A or Jet A-1 fuel and a SAF component with a maximum blend limit of 50%. Andac chairs an international task force to develop standardized industry specifications supporting adoption of 100% drop-in SAF, which does not require blending with conventional jet fuel.
“What we learned from this flight is that we can actually blend two distinct SAF types together to get to a fully drop-in sustainable synthetic Jet A as a replacement for conventional Jet A,” Andac said.
Drop-in means that no engine or infrastructure changes are needed to use the fuel, and the drop-in SAF can be used in aviation equipment today.
- Collaborating with customers
Additional customers looking to decarbonize their fleet are testing SAF with GE’s support. At the 2021 Dubai Airshow, GE joined Emirates and Etihad Airways to announce plans to test 100% SAF.
It’s not all SAF testing either. With aircraft engines already able to run on SAF now, customers also operated flights on SAF for the first time or to raise awareness about the need to grow the supply of SAF globally. For example, Sikorsky’s S-92 helicopter made its first trip using SAF in 2021, powered by GE’s CT7 engines.
And when KLM and other members of the SkyTeam Airline Alliance launched their inaugural Sustainable Flight Challenge in spring 2022, GE engines powered two different KLM flights in a race to reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible.
Departing from Amsterdam, KLM completed two flights in May for the challenge, with a medium-range trip to Porto, Portugal, and a long-haul flight to Edmonton, Canada. The aircraft KLM chose for its Edmonton run, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, is equipped with GEnx engines. These advanced turbofan jet engines used 39% blend sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on their Canada run, with the capability to burn up to 50% SAF blends in each engine. KLM Cityhopper also participated in the challenge with a GE-powered CF34-10E Embraer 190 using 39% SAF blend.
“We are helping customers around the world to achieve their sustainability goals, and this challenge has broadened and deepened the ecosystem of sustainability between our companies significantly,” says GE’s senior customer support manager, Niels Brouwer.
- Joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB)
Looking to further advance its ambition to be a net-zero company by 2050 and help the aviation industry decarbonize, GE in 2022 joined the RSB.
By becoming an RSB member, GE can collaborate on standards-setting and policy discussions that incentivize greater production of SAF. This is important because even though all SAF approved today is drop-in, SAF production is now less than 1% of global jet fuel demand and is more expensive than conventional jet fuel.
RSB is a global membership organization that works with stakeholders in diverse sectors all over the world to lead the socially and environmentally sustainable transition to a bio-based and circular economy.
- GE’s Passport engine tested with 100% SAF
New in 2022, GE completed a ground test of the Passport long-range business aviation engine using 100% SAF, demonstrating the engine’s capabilities. Testing was conducted with one engine over several days in March at GE’s Peebles Test Operations in Ohio. The purpose of the test was to assess the performance and operability of the engine technology with 100% SAF compared to conventional Jet A.
The type of SAF used in the testing, HEFA-SPK, is the most widely available SAF today and can be made from cooking oil and other waste fats, oils and greases.
- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture stops by GE
Soon after the U.S. administration launched the SAF Grand Challenge, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak visited GE headquarters in late 2021.
The SAF Grand Challenge aims to work with stakeholders “to reduce costs, enhance sustainability and expand production and use of sustainable aviation fuels that achieves a minimum of a 50% reduction in lifecycle GHGs [greenhouse gas emissions] compared to conventional fuel.” As Secretary Vilsack noted, the goal of the challenge is for the U.S. to be producing 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030 and 35 billion gallons by 2050.
What does agriculture have to do with aviation? SAF is a synthetic fuel that can be made from any of 60 different feedstocks — among them plant oils, algae, greases, fats, waste streams, alcohols, sugars, captured CO2 and other alternative feedstock sources and processes. When burned in a jet engine it provides the same power as conventional petroleum-based jet fuel with significantly less lifecycle carbon emissions.