Rolls-Royce and British Airways launch alternative fuel trial

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Rolls-Royce and British Airways today announced the start of a scientific test programme to investigate the viability of alternative fuels for the aviation industry.

The in-depth study will seek to identify practical alternatives to the current industry-standard fuel kerosene, with the potential to make real reductions to the carbon footprint of aircraft.

The companies will initiate a joint tender process, inviting suppliers to offer alternative fuel samples for testing on a Rolls-Royce RB211 engine from a British Airways Boeing 747. The tests will be carried out on an indoor engine test bed at the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, UK.

Testing the engine in the controlled environment of a Rolls-Royce test bed enables more accurate data to be gathered than would be possible on an actual flight because additional instrumentation can be used and performance and emissions will not be affected by other external factors.

Following the tender process, there will be a selection of up to four alternative fuels, which will undergo laboratory testing before being delivered to Rolls-Royce in the new year. Each company will be asked to supply up to 60,000 litres of their alternative fuel.

This will be followed by intensive trials, during which the aero-engine will be powered by the alternative fuels and its performance compared to running on conventional kerosene. In each case, the engine will be operated through its full range of power settings including idle, acceleration, take off and cruise.

Testing is expected to be complete by the end of March 2009, after which the results will be analysed and reported.

Ric Parker, Director of Research and Technology at Rolls-Royce, said: “The key criteria for the selection of the alternative fuels will be their suitability, sustainability and industrial capability.

“It is critical that the fuel can not only do the job required of it, but can also offer a CO2 benefit and be produced without a detrimental impact to food, land or water. There must also be clear evidence of the potential for mass production and global distribution of an alternative fuel to support the world’s aviation industry.”

Jonathon Counsell, Head of Environment at British Airways, said: “ We are delighted to be leading this study with Rolls-Royce. British Airways was the first airline to set fuel efficiency targets, leading us to improve our fuel efficiency by 28 per cent since 1990. We are now well on our way to our target of a 30 per cent improvement by 2010. Recently, we announced a further 25 per cent improvement target on fuel efficiency by 2025 compared with 2005. Should the tests we are undertaking with Rolls-Royce be successful, the potential for bringing us closer to a greener fuel alternative that will help the aviation industry reduce its carbon footprint is enormous.

The results of the study will be made public so the whole industry, its customers and most importantly, the environment, can benefit.”


  1. Rolls-Royce is determined to make an effective response to the problem of climate change and other environmental concerns. It believes it can help society develop solutions which protect the environment and deliver sustainable economic growth.
  2. The group is committed to a programme of continuous improvement for its production and service activities around the world. It is equally committed to significant annual investments in research and development, in order to provide leading-edge technologies that reduce fuel burn, emissions and noise across all our products. It is at the forefront of research into advanced technologies that could provide entirely new approaches to the problem of climate change.
  3. Rolls-Royce has the scientific and technical knowledge to help address these challenges and ensure it can meet the future power needs of society in a responsible way.
  4. Rolls-Royce continues to invest in core technologies, products, people and capabilities with the objective of broadening and strengthening the product portfolio, improving efficiency and enhancing the environmental performance of its products. These investments create high barriers to entry.
  5. Each year, in collaboration with its partners, Rolls-Royce invests over £800 million on research and development, two thirds of which has the objective of further improving the environmental aspects of its products. The primary technology investment area is aimed at reducing noise and emissions.

British Airways

  1. British Airways (BA) was the first airline to set fuel efficiency targets, and has improved fuel efficiency by 28 per cent since 1990, preventing the release into the atmosphere of more than 60 million tonnes of CO2. The airline has a target for a further improvement of fuel efficiency of 25 per cent by 2025 compared with 2005.
  2. BA has invested in new aircraft that set the gold standard in environmental performance in the key areas of carbon emissions, local air quality and noise.
  3. BA was the first airline to be part of a carbon trading scheme, has been instrumental in the EU's adoption of the carbon trading scheme involving airlines, and continues to lobby for the implementation of a global scheme.
  4. The airline has pioneered operational practices such as continuous descent approaches to reduce emissions, and sponsored research into lower-carbon fuels.
  5. British Airways has reduced aircraft noise and taken steps to protect local air quality around its main base at London Heathrow.
  6. British Airways has an ultimate aim of neutralising its contribution to greenhouse gases and continuing to reduce levels of aircraft noise and local air pollution.

Need more information?