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Luxury car company announces technological breakthrough that could shape future of aviation: ‘The cutting edge of innovation’

A video provided by the company shows the fan in the lab.

A video provided by the company shows the fan in the lab.

Photo Credit: iStock

A U.K. manufacturer best known for its stylish car models is developing high-level engine tech. In fact, it’s sky-high. 

Rolls-Royce intends for its UltraFan to be ready to power air travel in the 2030s, according to a company fact sheet. It’s billed as a turbine system that’s 25% more fuel efficient than other company fans, running 100% on what it says is cleaner-burning sustainable aviation fuel, or “SAF” for short.

Though further information is necessary to evaluate whether such fuel is completely sustainable, the efforts to take advantage of lower-polluting fuels are promising. And as news of the successful demonstration rolls in, Rolls-Royce is reinforcing its commitment to cleaner air travel.

“Hitting full power with our UltraFan demonstrator sends a strong message that Rolls-Royce is at the cutting edge of innovation and technology, leading the way in the transition to more efficient and sustainable aviation,” Rolls-Royce CEO Tufan Erginbilgic said in an Interesting Engineering report. 

The company reports that lighter, composite materials, and “the world’s most powerful aerospace gearbox,” are part of the tech. The device isn’t short on power, able to produce up to 110,000 pounds thrust, Interesting Engineering reports. What’s more, the company said there’s 35% less noise.

UltraFan tech could also be transferred to in-service aircraft “to provide even greater fuel efficiency and reductions in emissions,” per the fact sheet. 

Aviation is being electrified, just like ground-based transportation. Innovations, including electric helicopter-like machines, are in development or are operating. 

The manufacturer is exploring hybrid-electric and hydrogen technology as part of the goal for operations to reach “net zero carbon” by 2030, with more pollution elimination goals marked for 2050, according to the company’s website.

Achieving “net zero” status is a common boilerplate goal for many companies. 

Realizing the goal means cutting heat-trapping air pollution in operations “to as close to zero as possible,” according to the United Nations. The remaining dirty air must be “reabsorbed” by our seas and trees.

It’s a noteworthy benchmark, and a crucial part of the way the UN states the planet will avoid the worst-case scenarios from planet overheating. 

Planes produce about 2.4% of the planet’s heat-trapping carbon pollution, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Rolls-Royce experts think UltraFan can help to clean things up in the air. 

“We estimate that to reach net zero flying by 2050, a combination of highly efficient, latest-generation gas turbines such as UltraFan operating on 100% SAF is likely to contribute around 80% of the total solution,” Rolls-Royce’s group director of engineering, technology, and safety, Simon Burr, told Interesting Engineering. 

A video provided by the company shows the fan in the lab. It’s “over two times” the height of fan rotor project lead Alexandra Hussey, as Hussey noted in the video. 

“It really is big,” she said, standing in front of the sleek-looking blades. 

Hussey added that she thinks the design will help the industry work “toward the future of lower-carbon flying, which is incredibly important.”

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