GE and Safran's hybrid engine plans could ground the guilt over air travel

A new aircraft engine design that could potentially cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20-percent is being developed, with GE Aviation and Safran suggesting the CFM RISE program could result in more frugal transportation by the mid-2030s. The new "Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines" program is also aiming to develop powertrain options for aircraft that support alternative fuels, as well as hybrid-electric operation.

The two companies are no strangers. The CFM collaboration began back in 1974, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran. It's now been extended to 2050, and credited with already cutting emissions by 15-percent in the existing LEAP engine compared to previous-generation aircraft engines.

RISE, though, will take things even further. It'll form the basis of a new CFM engine design which the two companies hope to have ready for commercial deployment by the mid-2030s. As well as cutting fuel consumption and trimming CO2 emissions, it'll have to be completely compatible with hydrogen and Sustainable Aviation Fuels.

"Central to the program is state-of-the-art propulsive efficiency for the engine, including developing an open fan architecture," GE said today of the agreement. "This is a key enabler to achieving significantly improved fuel efficiency while delivering the same speed and cabin experience as current single-aisle aircraft. The program will also use hybrid electric capability to optimize engine efficiency while enabling electrification of many aircraft systems."

There won't be any one, individual component responsible for that sort of overall improvement and flexibility, of course. Instead, the joint GE/Safran engineering team is looking to everything from composite fan blades, heat resistant metal alloys, ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), hybrid electric capability, and additive manufacturing. In total, there'll be more than 300 different component, module, and full engine builds.

It won't be until the middle of the decade, or thereabouts, before a demonstrator engine is ready for testing. Flight testing, though, should come soon after that.

The aviation industry is targeting a 50-percent reduction in net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, relative to the levels in 2005. It's not just about the engines' inherent fuel consumption, mind, with GE also focusing on things like easier ways to clean engines and thus make them more efficient, as well as 3D printing key components. The GE9X engine in the Boeing 777X, for example, already includes more than 300 3D printed components using additive manufacturing.