Developing exciting technologies that will make aviation more sustainable: Ashmita Sethi, Pratt & Whitney

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October 21, 2021 1:45 PM

Earlier this month, in view of the growing number of passengers expected to fly in coming decades, airlines globally have committed themselves to ''net zero’’ carbon emissions by 2050.

Ashmita Sethi, Pratt & WhitneyAshmita Sethi, President and Country Head, Pratt & Whitney

At the COP26 Summit in Glasgow next week, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is going to be one of the issues to be discussed. Aerospace majors, airlines, and airports globally are pushing governments to help increase production of SAF which will be the critical key to enable the industry to meet their climate goals and lower their carbon footprints.

Earlier this month, in view of the growing number of passengers expected to fly in coming decades, airlines globally have committed themselves to ”net zero’’ carbon emissions by 2050. This decision has been taken to deal with climate change.

Ashmita Sethi, President and Country Head, Pratt & Whitney shares with Huma Siddiqui about the efforts of the company towards a cleaner environment and reducing aviation’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Following are excerpts

How eco-friendly are the platforms/solutions/services being made by P&W?

Pratt & Whitney engines are leading the industry in terms of fuel efficiency, emissions reduction and noise and we are continually advancing them to deliver the best products for our customers and the environment. At Pratt & Whitney, we support our customers in their ambition to achieve net zero CO2 emissions for aviation by 2050.

So far, the revolutionary GTF (geared turbofan) family of engines enabled a 16%-20% improvement in fuel efficiency and carbon emissions compared to the previous generation, while also reducing NOx emissions by 50%, and noise footprint by 75%. In India, GTF engines power more than 180 A320neo family aircraft for GoFIRST and IndiGo and have saved more than 150 million gallons (580 million liters) of fuel, avoided over 1.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions, and gained more than 2.8 million hours of experience.

Today, all our engines are ready to operate with Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) at up to a maximum blend of 50% with standard jet fuel. We have conducted SAF testing on our engines and collaborated with industry regulators like ASTM International for over a decade, and continue to do so, working towards a standard for 100% SAF operation. We recognize the key role SAF will play in decarbonizing aviation, and we support efforts to rapidly scale up SAF production infrastructure, to reduce aviation’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Looking ahead, we are developing a range of exciting technologies that will make aviation more sustainable, including hybrid-electric propulsion and hydrogen-fueled propulsion systems. We recently announced our plans to advance our hybrid-electric propulsion technology and flight demonstrator program as part of a $163M CAD (Canadian Dollars) investment, supported by the governments of Canada and Quebec.

The new hybrid-electric propulsion technology will drive significant improvements in aircraft efficiency by optimizing performance across the different phases of flight, allowing the demonstrator to target a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions, compared to a modern regional turboprop airliner. Pratt & Whitney Canada is working with De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (De Havilland Canada) to integrate this hybrid-electric technology into a De Havilland Canada Dash 8-100 flight demonstrator. This demonstrator will include an advanced electric motor and controller from Collins Aerospace, also a Raytheon Technologies business. We will target ground testing in 2022, leading to flight testing of the Dash 8-100 demonstrator in 2024.

How is the company working with its global suppliers to ensure that there is less carbon footprint?

The vast majority of P&W’s carbon footprint comes from the operation of our engines, which we continually improve to make more fuel efficient and produce less emissions.Our 1000 strong GTF-powered aircraft fleet worldwide has saved more than 5 million tons of CO2, helping aviation growth be as sustainable as possible. The GTF is only at the beginning of its potential and we see further opportunities to enhance efficiency and footprint going forward, including through advanced materials like ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). Globally, we are also deploying the use of advanced robotics, automation and additive manufacturing technologies to further enhance the level of operational effectiveness in our facilities. We also continue to examine ways to expand our involvement with SAFs, including the opportunity to use them in our own operations.

How is P&W working towards playing a role in ensuring that helps in India’s efforts towards climate change?

Since aviation is one of the fastest growing sectors in India, its contributions to total emissions will eventually increase. At the same time, India’s commercial airliner fleet is growing with new and efficient aircraft, powered by engines like the GTF, which will help reduce passenger CO2 emissions. With UDAN coming in a big way, airline operators will further require efficient aircraft in order to make connectivity affordable and sustainable. This creates a great opportunity to drive policy towards accelerating SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) uptake in the short term, and then have a roadmap in place for emerging technologies like hybrid-electric and hydrogen-fueled aircraft in the longer term. In fact, Pratt & Whitney is working with the National Bio-Fuels Committee to make key recommendations on uptake of SAF’s for India.

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