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Summary:

GE Aviation and NASA are teaming up to test an “open rotor” jet engine design that puts the fan blades on the outside of the engine, which they say could reduce jet fuel consumption by more than 30 percent. GE and NASA actually designed the engine […]

GE Aviation and NASA are teaming up to test an “open rotor” jet engine design that puts the fan blades on the outside of the engine, which they say could reduce jet fuel consumption by more than 30 percent. GE and NASA actually designed the engine and developed it into a product — the GE36 — in the 80s, but say they never commercially released it because of falling oil prices.

In the face of high fuel costs this year they have decided to revive the engine design and plan to start wind-tunnel tests in early 2009 at NASA’s Glenn Research Center where the original testing of the GE36 took place. Initial testing of the open rotor design will focus on fan configuration performance and acoustics. GE and NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate are jointly funding the program.

Exhaust from kerosene-burning jet engines released high up in the atmosphere is already responsible for 4 to 9 percent of the climate change impact, according to the European Climate Action Network. The air travel industry is increasingly trying to reduce emissions, as carbon regulations are likely to come into effect internationally. Startups like Solazyme, Aquaflow Bionomics and Sapphire Energy are working on bio-jet fuels that can reduce carbon emissions. And Boeing, along with a consortium of airlines and Honeywell’s energy technology developer UOP, have established the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group to develop cleaner jet fuels as well.

Images courtesy of GE.

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  1. Hard to believe that they would have stopped producing the engine just because oil prices fell. Isn’t fuel the number one cost for airlines? Seems like the dogs would have been happy to eat that dog food.

  2. Alex, it was not just the oil price coming down that put plans for an open-rotor aircraft engine on hold, but a number of issues… noise and public perception included (see my blog post at http://www.enviro.aero/blog).

    Because of the reduction of the oil price, more research into overcoming the noise issue and then entry into service became uneconomical. But now, with the oil price once again a major factor, not to mention the environmental focus of many airlines and two decade’s worth of technology advances, it has been time to dust off the plans and incorporate innovations such as carbon-fibre.

    Both the Rolls-Royce and GE tests are suggesting that we could have an engine up to 30% more efficient and as quiet as modern jet aircraft. This is significant progress, but is just one of a huge number of projects underway across the aviation industry to reduce emissions. Currently, we produce around 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Although this is small in proportion to other sectors, it is up to all parts of the economy to reduce our impact. What GE is doing with NASA is just one example of the technology being implemented… we have set up a website http://www.enviro.aero to outline some of the other efforts underway.

    Haldane Dodd
    Air Transport Action Group, Geneva

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