However, with the industry contributing to 3%1 of the world’s total percentage of carbon emissions, there is growing recognition that progress cannot be at the expense of our climate. Collaboration remains crucial to accelerate aviation’s pathway to net-zero emissions. There is a need for all parties who benefit from aviation’s progress — governments, businesses, and passengers — to work together and tackle this challenge.

In this episode, Alex Macheras, aviation analyst, travel journalist, and a regular on the world’s leading international news networks, takes a look at the ways on how the industry is reducing emissions - what the aircraft engines of the future will look like, and how the fuels of the future will power them.

Engines of the future

Macheras’ first stop is at the Rolls Royce Factory in Derby, England, where he discusses developments in engine technology and the major role this will play in reducing CO2 emissions.

He first meets Simon Burr – Director of Product Development and Technology, who shares about Rolls Royce’s storied history dating back to 1915, and how the aero engine has evolved from using petrol, to jet fuel, to today’s use of modern, more efficient technologies and sustainable aviation fuels. Burr concludes that “It's an exciting time to be in the industry, to be honest with you.”

Macheras then joins Emma Booth - Sub Systems Lead on the shop floor, who shows Alex how the Trent XWB maximises efficiency and reduces emissions. She shows Alex how the various parts of the engine, such as the fan blades, blisks, compressor and sealing systems work to make the Trent XWB 15% more efficient than the first Trent engines to serve.

Booth touches on how Rolls Royce has recently announced that all of their engines “will be able to operate on a hundred percent sustainable aviation fuel by 2023”.

Fuels of the future

The engines of the future are increasingly going to be more efficient, and require less fuel, which is just one part of the equation because engines ultimately run on fuel. To explore the future of aviation fuel, Macheras heads over to the synkero lab in the Energy Transition Campus Amsterdam where he meets Dr. Tim Baart – Researcher, Gas-To-Liquids-X-To-Liquids. They discuss the role that “new generation” fuels like synthetic kerosene – synkero – will play in the aviation industry’s goal of reaching net- zero emissions by 2050.

Dr. Baart gives Alex a primer on how synkero is made. - Hydrogen is derived by feeding water into an electrolyser powered by renewable energy. This hydrogen is then combined with recycled carbon dioxide. The molecules of that product are cut to the desired length suitable for aviation fuel.

In doing so, they have successfully demonstrated that it is technically possible to produce synkero from just using these renewable sources: CO2, water and renewable power. In fact, they have produced 500 litres, which partially fueled a commercial flight from Amsterdam to Madrid in early 2021.

A Challenge of Scale

Although sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has the potential to reduce lifecycle emissions by up to 80%, compared with conventional aviation fuel2, it still only accounts for less than 0.1% of the 300 million tonnes of fuel used annually by commercial airlines3

The challenge for SAF is an economic and technological one. As Dr. Baart mentions “we have now shown that it's technically possible today at this scale. But we are very much aware that the big challenge is turning this into something that is commercially viable at a large scale.”

Macheras concludes that as a harmonised industry, “it's going to take airlines, airports, governments, businesses, and even passengers to collectively play their part” to enable these carbon reduction impacts at scale.

1Working Towards Ambitious Targets. (n.d.). IATA. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.iata.org/en/programs/environment/climate-change/

2https://www.iata.org/en/programs/environment/sustainable-aviation-fuels/

3https://www.iata.org/en/programs/environment/sustainable-aviation-fuels/