Airbus announces launch of French-led green aviation fuel test programme

2nd November 2021 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

A research campaign to test the suitably of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) as the energy source for single-aisle airliners has been launched at Toulouse in France. The campaign will involve both ground and flight tests and is being jointly conducted by aircraft groups Airbus and Dassault Aviation, aeroengine company Safran, French national aerospace research centre ONERA and the French Ministry of Transport. The SAF is being supplied by Total Energies. The German Aerospace Centre will also be involved.

On Thursday, an Airbus A319neo single-aisle airliner started the test campaign with a flight from Toulouse, during which one of its two CFM LEAP-1A engines was operated using only 100% SAF. (The suffix –neo stands for new engine option.) The test programme is designated VOLCAN, a French language acronym derived from a phrase which translates as ‘Flight with New Alternative Fuels’.

“The flight went smoothly,” reported Airbus lead flight test engineer and pilot David O’Nions. “There was no difference in engine behaviour, which gives us confidence that 100% SAF provides comparable performance to conventional jet fuels.”

The SAF being used in the project is made from hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA), sourced mainly from used cooking oil, although also including other waste fats. HEFA does not contain aromatics (cyclic but unsaturated hydrocarbons which can cause jet engines to emit smoke) or sulphur. Some 57 t of this SAF will be used for the test programme.

“The great thing about HEFA is that it has no aromatics,” highlighted VOLCAN project lead Tim Leigh. “We specifically selected to test this type of SAF as part of the VOLCAN project due to its high potential to have a positive impact on non-CO2 emissions compared to other types of SAF. At Airbus, we understand we need to go beyond CO2 emissions to gain a more complete picture of aviation’s full climate impact.”

During the test campaign, Safran will focus on SAF compatibility with fuel systems and on adaptations to engines that its use will require. It will also carry out ground tests on the LEAP engine using 100% SAF. Airbus and DLR will characterise and analyse the impact of 100% SAF on engine emissions both on the ground and in the air. Dassault Aviation will contribute SAF compatibility studies regarding both materials and equipment and will verify 100% SAF’s susceptibility to biocontamination. ONERA will support Airbus and Safran in SAF/aircraft systems compatibility analyses and be responsible for preparing the tests for, and analysing the results of, the effect of 100% SAF on the formation of contrails. The French Ministry of Transport is providing funding. Initial results are expected next year.