Rolls-Royce urges sustainable-fuel acceleration to beat UN targets

All of Rolls-Royce’s Trent family engines will be proven compatible with 100% unblended sustainable aviation fuel by 2023, the engine manufacturer has disclosed.

Rolls-Royce had previously committed to test the compatibility of in-production engines, as part of its decarbonisation efforts.

While the United Nations has set targets of 10% sustainable fuel use by 2030, with this figure not reaching 100% until 2050, the manufacturer says it is investing – alongside Airbus and fuel specialist Shell – in technology that “could enable that to happen sooner”.

It says the compatibility drive means it will have proven, in the next two years, that net-zero carbon operations are possible for 40% of the powerplants on long-haul aircraft.

Ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the three aerospace companies are urging “further ambition and collaboration” across the aviation sector, and with governments, to scale-up sustainable fuel production and enable long-haul air transport shifts towards net-zero targets “ahead of the aviation goals” set by the UN.

“As the technology enablers are being put in place, the focus must be on the infrastructure, investment and policy frameworks necessary to support [this scale-up],” says Rolls-Royce.

Trent 7000-c-Rolls-Royce

Airbus aircraft are already certified to operate with 50% blends of sustainable fuel, and the airframer aims to achieve certification with 100% unblended fuel by the end of the decade.

Shell intends to bring a biofuel plant in the Netherlands online in 2024, and has committed more broadly to producing 2 million tonnes of sustainable fuel annually by 2025 – a substantial increase on current global output, although pre-crisis consumption of conventional aviation fuel was around 290 million tonnes a year.

“For long-haul aviation, the challenge of decarbonisation is particularly difficult,” says Rolls-Royce. “Sustainable aviation fuel represents a clear pathway to net-zero flight over longer distances.”

Chief executive Warren East says aviation’s relative contribution to emissions will increase as “easier-to-abate” sectors decarbonise.

“Shortening aviation’s journey to net-zero, with action in the opening phase of this ‘decisive decade’, would be a huge win for the world,” he says.

“However, we will only create the focus and momentum required to achieve this if we ratchet our collective ambition beyond the current target of achieving 10% sustainable fuel usage by 2030.”

Airbus chief technical officer Sabine Klauke says the “time to act across sectors and companies is now”, adding that there are “multiple solutions” to assist the shift to decarbonisation – including new technology, improved operations, and committing to higher sustainable-fuel production.

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