(30 Nov 2021)
 
Initial findings from a world-first study of the
impact of 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on both engines of
a commercial jet have provided promising early results.

The ECLIF3 study, involving Airbus, Rolls-Royce,
German research centre DLR and SAF producer Neste, marks the first
time 100% SAF has been measured simultaneously on both engines of
a commercial passenger aircraft – an Airbus A350 aircraft powered
by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines.

In-flight emissions tests and associated ground
testing on the ECLIF3 programme began earlier this year and have
recently resumed.

Airbus A350 flightlab

The interdisciplinary team, which also includes
researchers from the National Research Council of Canada and The
University of Manchester, plans to publish its results in academic
journals towards the end of next year and 2023.

Findings from the study will support efforts
currently underway at Airbus and Rolls-Royce to ensure the
aviation sector is ready for the large-scale use of SAF as part of
the wider initiative to decarbonise the industry.

Aircraft are
currently only allowed to operate on a 50% blend of SAF and
conventional jet fuel, but both companies support the drive to
certify 100% SAF use.

In April, the A350 flew three flights over the
Mediterranean Sea pursued by a DLR Falcon chaser plane to compare
in-flight emissions of both kerosene and Neste’s hydro-processed
esters and fatty acids (HEFA) sustainable fuel. The team also
carried out compliance tests using 100% SAF and no operational
issues were experienced.

In-flight emission tests using 100% SAF and a
HEFA/Jet A-1 fuel blend resumed this month, while ground-based
emissions testing to quantify the benefits of SAF on local air
quality were also performed.

The research team found SAF releases
fewer particulates than conventional kerosene at all tested engine
operating conditions, which points to the potential for reduced
climate impact and improvement in air quality around airports.

In addition, SAF has lower density but higher
energy content per kilogram of fuel compared to conventional
kerosene, which brings some aircraft fuel-efficiency advantages
due to lower fuel burn and less fuel mass to board to achieve the
same mission. Detailed analysis by the team is on-going.

“Engines and fuel systems can be tested on the
ground but the only way to gather the full set of emissions data
necessary for this programme to be successful is to fly an
aircraft in real conditions,” said Steven Le Moing, New Energy
Programme Manager at Airbus. “In-flight testing of the A350 offers
the advantage of characterising direct and indirect engine
emissions, including particulates from behind an aircraft at high
altitude.”

The DLR Falcon chaser aircraft is equipped with
multiple probes to measure emissions at cruise level down to a
distance of only 100 metres from the A350 and feed them into
scientific instrumentation for analysis.

“SAF has been shown to have a significantly lower
carbon footprint over its life cycle compared to conventional jet
fuel and now we are seeing it is advantageous in reducing non-CO2
effects too,” said Markus Fischer, DLR’s Divisional Board Member
for Aeronautics. “Tests such as these are continuing to develop
our understanding of 100% SAF, its use in flight and we are seeing
positive signs for its potential in climate mitigation. We look
forward to studying the data from the second series of ECLIF3
flights, which restarted with a first chase flight above the
Mediterranean earlier this month.”

In 2015, DLR performed the ECLIF1 campaign,
investigating alternative fuels with its Falcon and A320 ATRA
research aircraft. These investigations continued in 2018 with the
ECLIF2 campaign which saw the A320 ATRA flying with a mixture of
standard jet fuel and up to 50% HEFA. This research showed the
advantageous emission performance of fuel mixtures up to 50% SAF
and paved the way for the 100% SAF test flights for ECLIF3.

Simon Burr, Rolls-Royce Director of Product
Development and Technology, Civil Aerospace, said, “This research
adds to tests we’ve already carried out on our engines, both on
the ground and in the air, which have found no engineering
obstacle to our engines running on 100% SAF. If we are to truly decarbonise long-haul air travel, then 100% SAF is a critical
element and we are committed to supporting its certification for
service.”

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