Airbus Wants To Run An A350 Only Using Biofuels

Airbus today announced that it is teaming with German research center DLR, Rolls-Royce, and SAF producer Neste to pioneer the ‘Emission and Climate Impact of Alternative Fuels’ (ECLIF3) program. As part of the project, the group of companies is using an Airbus A350-900 to look into the effects of 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on aircraft emissions and performance.

Airbus A350 Aircraft
Tests will compare emissions from the use of 100% SAF produced with HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) with fuel from fossil kerosene and low-sulfur fossil kerosene.  Photo: Getty Images

Preparing for the future

According to a statement shared by Airbus, findings from the study on the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered widebody will support actions by Airbus and Rolls-Royce to ensure that the airline industry is ready for the ramp-up of SAF use.

Fuel-clearance engine tests started in Toulouse, France this week. The events consisted of a first flight to check operational compatibility of utilizing 100% SAF with the plane’s systems. These processes will be followed by flight-emissions tests expected to begin next month and resume in the fall, which will use DLR’s Falcon 20-E ‘chase plane’ to conduct measurements to investigate the emissions impact of deploying these fuels.

Furthermore, ground tests will measure particulate-matter emissions to assess the environmental impact of SAF-use on airport services.

Airbus SAF
The SAFs will be supplied by Neste, a global leader in the field. Photo: Airbus

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Crucial actions

According to the statement, Steven Le Moing, New Energy Programme Manager, Airbus, said the following about the prospects of SAFs:

“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.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Patrick Le Clercq, ECLIF Project Manager at DLR, added the following about research into these biofuels:

“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% 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.”

Airbus Hydrogen
Airbus is looking ahead when it comes to sustainability, it also previously announced hydrogen initiatives. Photo: Airbus

Adapting to the change

Simon Burr, Director Product Development and Technology, Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace, also spoke about the potential of SAF. He feels that in a post-pandemic world, more passengers will want to connect with others again, but in a sustainable manner. Gas turbines will be in use for decades. So, the deployment of SAFs is critical to decarbonizing long-haul travel.

Rolls-Royce offers its support in the research of this technology. Overall, it believes that it is essential in the company’s focus to understand and enable the use of 100% SAF when it comes to emission challenges.

Jonathan Wood, Neste’s Vice President Europe, Renewable Aviation, concluded that 100% Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel can deliver up to 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil jet fuel use when all life-cycle emissions are taken into consideration. He also feels that further studies will clarify even additional advantages of these fuels.

Altogether, SAF will feature prominently in travel by the time this decade is over. The European Commission is currently working on targets for airlines to use a minimum of traditional fuels to curb the aviation industry’s carbon emissions.

Moreover, Europe’s low-cost powerhouses this month wrote to the European Union to ask for sustainable fuel quotas to apply for all operations, not just short-haul flights. Therefore, if the EU and other authorities respond to these requests, the need to scale up the usage of SAFs for long-distance aircraft will be catalyzed.

What are your thoughts about Airbus looking to run on A350 entirely on sustainable air fuels? Do you think this is a good move by the company? Let us know what you think of the prospects in the comment section.