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Over the past year, GE Aviation has outlined what is one of the company’s most comprehensive technology development roadmaps in its more than 100-year history. Multiple ground and flight tests planned during this decade will seek breakthrough new technologies for use in next-generation commercial aircraft engines that could enter service from the mid-2030s.

Advanced motor architectures such as open fans, hybrid electric propulsion systems and new designs of compact motor cores – some of the technologies that will be demonstrated on test beds over the next few years – will all be key programs to watch in 2022 and beyond.

In addition to maturing these technologies for flight readiness and new products, GE also supports efforts to increase the use and availability of alternative fuels, such as sustainable aviation fuel and hydrogen.

Breakthrough technologies and alternative fuels both have a vital role to play in achieving the aviation industry’s long-term climate goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 for commercial flights.

Here are GE’s key innovations and industry-leading efforts to watch in the march to net zero:

Fan open and CFM RISE program

If you ask GE chief engineer Chris Lorence, now is the time to open up the fan. Why? Since GE first flew a ductless fan in the 1980s, open fan motor design has been made simpler and lighter with new approaches such as carbon fiber composite fan blades. single-stage rotary vanes and fixed outlet guide vanes.

The open fan design is one of the advanced engine architectures that CFM International, a 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, is exploring under the CFM RISE program. The parent companies came together in June 2021 to launch the RISE program with a target of improving fuel consumption by more than 20% and reducing CO2 emissions compared to today’s most efficient engines. today. Technologies matured under the RISE program will serve as the basis for the next-generation CFM engine that could be available by the mid-2030s. Central to the program is cutting-edge propulsion efficiency.

Electric hybrid – it’s in GE’s DNA

Even before NASA announced in September 2021 the selection of GE for its Electrified Powerplant Flight Demonstration (EPFD) program, GE had been advancing the electrification of aircraft and engine systems for more than a decade. . During this time, GE engineers have evolved the individual components of a hybrid electric system, including motors, generators and power converters.

Now the jet engine maker and aircraft systems company will take what they’ve learned in the labs about making an integrated electric machine and prepare it for the ground and flight tests planned for the medium. of the 2020s.

Through the total $260 million program with NASA, GE will develop a megawatt-class hybrid electric powertrain to demonstrate flight readiness for single-aisle aircraft using a modified Saab 340B test bed and GE’s CT7-9B turboprop engines. . GE is partnering with Boeing, which will support flight testing for the program and has selected BAE Systems to design, test and supply power management components.

Electrification efforts leverage the capabilities of GE’s aviation, energy and research organizations. GE co-founder Thomas Edison created the first electrical grid in 1882 and today GE electrical equipment generates one-third of the world’s electricity.

Smaller core, higher efficiency

One of the enabling technologies being investigated in CFM’s RISE program is a compact engine core. In another multimillion-dollar program with NASA announced in late 2021, GE has won contracts to test and evolve new jet engine core designs, including compressor, combustor and turbine technologies. high pressure to improve thermal efficiency. The continued development of ceramic matrix composites, an advanced, heat-resistant material, is also a key part of the effort to improve energy efficiency and thereby reduce emissions. GE expects this effort to lead to a ground test later this decade.

Powering another first for sustainable aviation fuel

On December 1, United Airlines operated the first passenger flight using 100% SAF in one of two CFM LEAP-1B engines. But the more than 100 people on board from Chicago to Washington, DC, weren’t the only unique thing about the flight. As Gurhan Andac, GE’s engineering manager for fuels, explained, the historic flight was also important to efforts to increase SAF above the current 50 percent blend limit.

Currently, the SAF approved for use is a blend of petroleum-based Jet A or Jet A-1 fuel and an SAF component with a maximum blend limit of 50%. Andac chairs an international working group to develop standardized industry specifications supporting the adoption of 100% SAF, which does not require blending with conventional jet fuel.

“There have been other 100% SAF flights in the past, including with GE and CFM engines, but in this flight we were able to mix two different SAF types to get an alternative fuel that is compatible with all the fleet and infrastructure 100%,” Andac said. “What we learned from this flight is that we can actually mix two distinct types of SAF to achieve a fully integrated durable synthetic Jet A as a replacement for conventional Jet A.”

Drop-in means no engine or infrastructure changes are needed to use the fuel, and drop-in SAF can be used in aircraft equipment today.

GE already has plans for more test flights with 100% SAF in 2022 and beyond, including programs announced at the last Dubai Airshow with Emirates and Etihad Airways. Most recently, in 2022, GE successfully completed ground testing of its Passport long-range business aviation engine using 100% SAF. The Passport engine can run on approved SAF today, and recent testing shows the engine’s ability to run on 100% SAF.

In fact, now and in the future, all GE and CFM International engines can run on approved SAF, which is produced from alternative raw materials and processes, reducing life cycle carbon emissions compared to to petroleum-based fuels.

Pioneer of hydrogen combustion

The February 2022 announcement that CFM and Airbus are collaborating on a hydrogen demonstration program will build in part on GE’s experience with hydrogen fuels in land-based gas turbines. GE has more than eight million operating hours of experience with hydrogen-based fuel blends, including aero-derivative engines.

With hydrogen combustion engine flight test plans in the middle of this decade, CFM’s RISE and Airbus’ ZEROe programs come together. The objective is to test on the ground and in flight a hydrogen-powered direct combustion engine, with a view to the entry into service of a zero-emission aircraft by 2035.

CFM will modify the combustion chamber, fuel system and control system of a GE Passport turbojet engine to run on hydrogen. The engine was selected due to its physical size, advanced turbo machinery and fuel flow capability. It will be mounted along the aft fuselage of the flying testbed to allow engine emissions, including contrails, to be monitored separately from those of the engines powering the aircraft. CFM will perform an extensive ground test program prior to the A380 flight tests.

“We will fly a modified engine to learn the art of the possible and prove the technologies,” said Mohamed Ali, vice president and general manager of engineering at GE Aviation. “Is hydrogen harder? Yes. Is it doable? Absolutely. And we’re building on great experience, and I’m actually very encouraged by the inventions we’ve already made to meet those challenges.

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