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Airbus and Rolls-Royce carry out test flights using sustainable fuel

Airbus and Rolls-Royce have said test flights of a commercial passenger aircraft using 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) have produced “promising early results”.

The two aerospace giants, which are both based in Filton near Bristol, have taken part in a world-first study which has managed to successfully measure the impact of 100% SAF on both engines of a commercial jet simultaneously.

Researchers from German aerospace centre DLR in a Falcon chaser plane conducted in-flight and ground-based emissions tests on an Airbus A350 aircraft powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines using fuel from SAF producer Neste.

The interdisciplinary team, which also included researchers from the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Manchester, found that during three flights over the Mediterranean Sea that SAF released fewer particles than conventional kerosene fuels.

The team said that no operational issues were experienced during compliance tests using 100% SAF.

Airbus 350 passenger aircraft and DLR Falcon chaser plane in flight during 100% SAF study.

Airbus and Rolls-Royce said the study’s findings pointed to the potential for reduced climate impact and improvement in air quality around airports.

Toby Wells, head of future fuels at Airbus, said: “We were really happy to see that, as we predicted, the particular emissions of the aircraft were much lower when using the 100% SAF.

“These particular emissions lead to the formation of contrails, which have a big contribution to aviation’s climate impact, so we’re pleased to have a solution available to address those emissions.

“We still have a lot more data to analyse and tests to perform but the initial results are very promising.”

Airbus and Rolls-Royce said the research will support the firms’ 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.

Aircraft are currently only allowed to operate on a 50% blend of SAF and conventional jet fuel, but both companies support a drive to certify 100% SAF use.

Simon Burr, Rolls-Royce’s director of product development and technology in civil aerospace, said: “This research adds to tests we’ve already carried out on our engines, both on the ground and in the air, which have found no engineering obstacle to our engines running on 100% SAF.

“If we are to truly decarbonise long-haul air travel, then 100% SAF is a critical element and we are committed to supporting its certification for service.”

The ECLIF3 study resumed earlier this month following three test flights over the Mediterranean in April. DLR’s Falcon chaser aircraft is equipped with multiple probes to measure emissions at cruise level down to a distance of 100 metres from the A350 and feed them into scientific instrumentation for analysis.

Markus Fischer, DLR’s divisional board member for aeronautics, added: “SAF has been shown to have a significantly lower carbon footprint over its life cycle compared to conventional jet fuel and now we are seeing it is advantageous in reducing non-CO2 effects too.”

“Tests such as these are continuing to develop our understanding of 100% SAF, its use in flight and we are seeing positive signs for its potential in climate mitigation.”

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