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Rolls-Royce flies engine on 100 per cent SAF

Rolls-Royce has carried out a successful test flight of its 747 Flying Testbed aircraft using 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) on a Trent family engine.

Flying test bed takes off from Tucson Airport (Image: Rolls-Royce)

The aircraft flew for just under four hours from Tucson airport in Arizona, passing over New Mexico and Texas, with a Trent 1000 engine running on SAF. The remaining three RB211 engines ran on standard jet fuel and initial indications from Rolls-Royce confirm there were no engineering issues.

Validation of the latest test adds to ground-and-air tests carried out on Trent XWB and Pearl engines.

Simon Burr, Rolls-Royce, director Product Development and Technology – Civil Aerospace, said: “We believe in air travel as a force for cultural good, but we also recognise the need to take action to decarbonise our industry. This flight is another example of collaboration across the value chain to make sure all the aircraft technology solutions are in place to enable a smooth introduction of 100 per cent SAF into our industry.”

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The flight was carried out in collaboration with Boeing, which provided technical support and oversight on aircraft modifications and assurance the aircraft systems would operate as expected with 100 per cent SAF. World Energy, the world’s first commercial-scale SAF production company, provided the low-carbon fuel for the flight.

Gene Gebolys, CEO, World Energy, said: “Rolls-Royce’s work to prove the viability of powering the jet engines they make with the 100 per cent renewable SAF…lays the groundwork for fossil fuel-free flight. This work is incredibly important, and we applaud and appreciate Rolls-Royce for working with us to do it.”

Aircraft are currently certified to operate on a maximum of 50 per cent SAF blended with conventional jet fuel and Rolls-Royce continues to support efforts to certificate non-blended SAF. Rolls-Royce recently confirmed that its Trent engines will be compatible with 100 per cent SAF by 2023.

The need to significantly increase the production of SAF was recognised recently by the US Biden administration with the launch of a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge to produce three billion gallons of the fuel a year by 2030. The European Commission has also created a ReFuelEU Aviation proposal that would mandate the incorporation of SAF supplied at EU airports. This would increase to 63 per cent by 2050.