By Edward Robertson
The first ever in-flight emissions study using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on a widebody commercial passenger aircraft has been launched.
Airbus has joined forces with German research centre DLR, Rolls Royce and SAF producer Neste in the Emission and Climate Impact of Alternative Fuels (ECLIF3) project looking into the effects of 100% SAF on aircraft emissions and performance.
The project will be undertaken both on the grou8nd and in the air using an Airbus A350-900 aircraft powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines.
It is part of ongoing efforts to ensure the aviation sector is ready for the large-scale use of SAF as part of the wider initiative to decarbonise the industry.
Fuel-clearance engine tests, including a first flight to check operational compatibility of using 100% SAF with the aircraft’s systems, started at Airbus’ facilities in Toulouse, France, this week.
These will be followed by the flight-emissions tests due to start in April and resuming in the autumn, using DLR’s Falcon 20-E ‘chase plane’ to carry out measurements to investigate the emissions impact of using SAF.
Meanwhile, further ground tests measuring particulate-matter emissions are set to indicate the environmental impact of SAF-use on airport operations.
Both the flight and the ground tests will compare emissions from the use of 100% SAF produced with HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) technology and provided by Neste against those from fossil kerosene and low-sulphur fossil kerosene.
Airbus new energy programme manager Steven Le Moing: “SAF is a vital part of Airbus’ ambition to decarbonise the aviation industry and we are working closely with a number of partners to ensure a sustainable future for air travel.
“Aircraft can currently only operate using a maximum 50% blend of SAF and fossil kerosene; this exciting collaboration will not only provide insight into how gas-turbine engines function using 100% SAF with a view to certification, but identify the potential emissions reductions and environmental benefits of using such fuels in flight on a commercial aircraft too.”
DLR ECLIF project manager Dr Patrick Le Clercq said: “By investigating 100% SAF, we are taking our research on fuel design and aviation climate impact to a new level.
“In previous research campaigns, we were already able to demonstrate the soot-reduction potential of between 30 and 50 per cent blends of alternative fuels, and we hope this new campaign will show that this potential is now even greater.
“DLR has already conducted extensive research on analytics and modelling as well as performing ground and flight tests using alternative fuels with the Airbus A320 ATRA research aircraft in 2015 and in 2018 together with NASA.”