At General Electric, designing and producing greener jet engines is in the forefront from a project's inception to theof the assembly line. Why? It's good business.
"In the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, fuel and reliability were the main drivers," said Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation in Evendale.
In recent years, environmental impact also has become a key factor in designing a jet engine, as more attention is being paid to issues such as noise and emissions, Kennedy said.
Today with GE's "Ecomagination" environmental initiative a growing part of the corporate culture, a jet engine's environmental impact commands center stage.
"Fuel efficiency has always been a major concern just because that's a big percentage of an airline's operating costs," said Kennedy. Better fuel efficiency equates to being more environmentally friendly because less fuel burned means fewer emissions, he said. "On the environmental side, where it really came in terms of our thinking was in emissions and noise. Those were really driven out of Europe. Now they've become big here."
To sell jet engines to airlines flying in Europe means making quieter engines that emit fewer emissions. It also means meeting not only the stringent environmental regulations currently in place but also going further so airlines can be confident of using the engines for 25 to 30 years. Moreover, to sell jet engines when jet fuel costs have shot up requires improved fuel efficiency, which also helps the environment.
GE is not alone in its move to be green.
At the recent Paris Air Show, the industry's major trade meeting, Boeing, Airbus and engine makers promoted technologies and their efforts to reduce carbon emissions. A few weeks ago, Boeing launched its 787 Dreamliner, which it says will be 20 percent more fuel efficient than the plane it is replacing. Airbus has also lauded the fuel efficiency of its new super-jumbo A380.
Under pressure from clients who want fuel-efficient planes, Boeing representatives said the company will not introduce a plane unless it is at least 15 percent more efficient than the one it is replacing.
Rolls-Royce, which is supplying the 787's engines, also is trying to find new ways to make planes more fuel efficient. Richard Parker, the company's director of research and technology, said that most in aviation circles "feel a little shell-shocked" by the public outcry over the industry's contribution to climate change because they have made such strides in improving fuel burn.
Airplane and engine makers have set a goal of reducing carbon emissions on the next generation of jets by 50 percent by 2020, Parker said, adding that those reductions could come with trade- offs.
If engineers focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, new engines might be noisier or produce more nitrogen oxides, gases that mostly harm local air quality.
"Will people living near airports win out, or will the planet as a whole win out?" Parker said.
Kennedy points to his company's new GEnx as an example of the company's new emphasis on developing products from the outset with the environment in mind.
"This is one of the first engines that when it was developed up front all of these environmental requirements were at the fore," said Kennedy of the engine that will power the new Boeing 787.
"The GEnx -- probably packages more things in it environmentally than we've ever done in one engine."
Kennedy said the engine's composite fan blades and fan case reduce the weight by about 400 pounds, which is significant in aviation and adds to fuel efficiency. The design and size of the jet engine blades produce a "quieter signature" to reduce jet noise. And a new way of combusting the jet fuel eliminates more nitrogen oxide emissions.
This bring Hainan Airlines' total GEnx-powered Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet to 10 aircraft.
JAL has orders for a total of 45 aircraft and options for an additional 20 GEnx-powered 787 Dreamliners.
The first flight of the GEnx-1B engine follows the February first flight of the GEnx-2B engine, which has logged more than 1,800 flight-hours on the Boeing 747-8 aircraft.