Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Exploring sustainable supersonic flight - Rolls-Royce & Boom

Rolls-Royce is working with Boom Supersonic, an aerospace company that is building the world’s fastest civil aircraft, to explore a propulsion system for Overture, Boom's flagship supersonic passenger aircraft.

Boom is aiming to usher in a new era of supersonic passenger flight, utilising the latest aerospace technology and the aero-engine giant is looking to identify the propulsion systems that would complement Boom’s Overture airframe and will explore whether an existing engine design could be adapted for supersonic flight.

The two firms are working together and abide by the Rolls-Royce commitment to sustainability, ensuring that the benefits of supersonic flight can be felt while still achieving key environmental goals.

Can supersonic travel be sustainable?

It is a question Rolls-Royce asked in a recent post and is something that still needs to be addressed, as supersonic passenger travel must be compatible with a net-zero carbon future, and Rolls-Royce plans on working together with Boom to address sustainability in Overture design and operations. Overcoming the technological challenges of supersonic flight provides a unique opportunity to accelerate innovation sustainably.

“We share a strong interest in supersonic flight and in sustainability strategies for aviation with Boom,” said Simon Carlisle, Director of Strategy – Civil Aerospace, Rolls-Royce. “We’re now building on our valuable experience in this space as well as our previous work together to further match and refine our engine technology for Boom’s Overture.”

For many people, supersonic travel is still synonymous with Concorde, which was a technological marvel of its time. But aerospace technology has advanced greatly since Concorde was built, and three areas of innovation will greatly improve the fuel efficiency of Overture:

Engine. More than 50 ago, Rolls-Royce equipped the world’s first supersonic airliner, Concorde, with four Olympus 593 engines. These were afterburning engines that were state of the art when designed, but Overture could benefit from the advances in engine technology made over the years. 
Materials. Concorde was constructed of aluminium. Overture will use carbon composites which are not only lighter, but more easily shaped into aerodynamically optimal forms.
Aerodynamics. Advanced computing allows thousands of iterations of aerodynamic testing, whereas Concorde was designed using slide rules and costly wind tunnel models, limiting the ability to optimise.
The engine maker will also explore the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) further in supersonic flight.  They are building on their work with the oil and gas industry to accelerate the use of SAF, while Boom has partnered with and supported a number of organisations focused on sustainability, including Prometheus Fuels, a company making road and aviation fuel from atmospheric carbon dioxide. As members of both the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials, Boom drives SAF adoption and has made sustainability a top priority.

Because supersonic aeroplanes will complement—not supplement—the subsonic fleet, Boom is keen to identify novel SAF sources that won’t compete with subsonic uses. Over the course of their engine development program, SAF from a number of pathways will be tested.

Most of Rolls-Royce aircraft engines can already operate using blended Sustainable Aviation Fuels, and have already flown using them. Therefore,  the firm believes that all of its newer engines would probably be able to operate on 100% SAF, something they are currently in the process of verifying.

Despite the pressures put upon the globe during the current coronavirus pandemic,  the two firms are still working together for a brighter, greener and faster tomorrow. 


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