• Joe Breitfeller

Aviation Leaders Launch First Inflight Study of 100 Percent SAF Emissions on Passenger Jet

An aerospace specialist team has launched the world’s first inflight emissions study using 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on a widebody commercial passenger aircraft. The testbed aircraft is an Airbus A350-900 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines.


Airbus A350-900 'flightlab' powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB Engines - Courtesy Airbus

On Thursday (March 18, 2021), Airbus announced the launch of the world’s first inflight 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) emissions on a commercial passenger jet. A group of aerospace specialists are conducting the tests utilizing an Airbus A350-900 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines. The team for the ‘Emissions and Climate Impact of Alternative Fuels’ (ECLIF3) includes Airbus, German research center DLR, Rolls-Royce and SAF producer Neste, who will study the effects of 100 percent SAF on emissions and performance.


Findings of the study will support efforts currently underway at Airbus and Rolls-Royce to ensure the aviation sector is ready for scaling SAF use as part of the wider effort to decarbonize the industry. This week, Airbus started fuel-clearance engine tests and a first flight to check operational compatibility at their Toulouse facility. The initial tests will be followed in April by ground-breaking flight emissions tests which will continue in the Autumn, using DLR’s Falcon 20-E chase plane to carry out the measurements. Inflight and ground tests will compare the use of 100 percent SAF produced with hydro-processed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) technology versus kerosene and low-sulphur kerosene.


Neste, a leading worldwide supplier of SAF, will provide the fuel for the study. Emissions particulate-matter measurement and analysis during ground testing will be delivered by the UK’s University of Manchester and the National research Council of Canada.


In Thursday’s announcement, Airbus’ New Energy Program Manager, Steven La Moing, said,


“SAF is a vital part of Airbus' ambition to decarbonize 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.”


Airbus A350-900 takes off with 100 Percent SAF for Emissions Study - Courtesy Airbus

Also commenting on the SAF emissions study, DLR’s Project Manager, Dr. Patrick Le Clerq, added,


“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.”

Further commenting on the ground-breaking study, Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace’s Director of Product Development and Technology, Simon Burr, said,


“In our post-COVID-19 world, people will want to connect again but do so sustainably. For long-distance travel, we know this will involve the use of gas turbines for decades to come. SAF is essential to the decarbonization of that travel and we actively support the ramp-up of its availability to the aviation industry. This research is essential to support our commitment to understanding and enabling the use of 100% SAF as a low-emissions solution.”


Finally, Neste’s Vice President Europe – Renewable Aviation, stated,


“We’re delighted to contribute to this project to measure the extensive benefits of SAF compared with fossil jet fuel and provide the data to support the use of SAF at higher concentrations than 50%. Independently verified analysis has shown 100% Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel delivering up to 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil jet fuel use when all life-cycle emissions are taken into account; this study will clarify the additional benefits from the use of SAF.”



Source: Airbus