Sustainability is taking off with NASA and GE Aerospace partnership
NASA spends $1 billion a year to keep the U.S. aerospace industry competitive. Part of that money goes to Evendale's GE Aerospace. The industry has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. Here's how GE plans to do it:
GE, NASA and Boeing are developing a hybrid-electric engine at the EPISCenter in Dayton. Building a hybrid-electric airplane engine isn't as easy as building one for a car. "Electric motors behave very differently at altitudes above 10,000 feet," says GE Aerospace Vice President and General Manager of Engineering Mohamed Ali. "They are susceptible to plasma arcing, for example, and much more difficult to manage." That's where the testing comes in. This year EPISCenter added a seventh test cell.
At a NASA test facility in Sandusky last year, GE completed the world's first test of a hybrid electric propulsion system in altitude conditions to simulate commercial flight.
"And we continue that — we didn't just punch the card and leave it there," says Tim McCartney, NASA Glenn Research Center director for aeronautics. "We continue with that technology and now we're going to fly it. GE is partnering with NASA on the electrified powertrain flight demonstrator, the next couple of years and we're going to fly that plane."
The GE-NASA partnership dates to World War II, when the two solved icing and other issues. These days, the focus is sustainability.
Ali says the partnership with NASA has been incredible, and points to the QCSEE program of the 1970s, which has a lot of parallels to the current initiative RISE, or Revolutionary Innovations for Sustainable Engines.
"We are in a phase where we are looking at all of these technologies (hybrid-electric, hydrogen, sustainable fuel) and throwing everything we know how to at it in order to meet that sustainability challenge for the industry and the planet," he says.
Sustainable jet fuel
The government wants to ramp up production of sustainable jet fuel to 3 billion gallons by 2030. That's a 600% increase from 2021. GE is testing 100% sustainable fuel at its Peebles facility.
Manager of Sustainability and Fuels Jieun Kirtley explains this green fuel is basically kerosene with renewable feedstock. It can also be made up of municipal solid waste, forestry waste or carbon captured in the atmosphere.
"The beauty of SAF is that it's a drop-in fuel, and when we say drop-in, it's equivalent to Jet A (standard fuel) so that you can use it in current engines, future engines and current infrastructure so you don't need to change a lot," says Kirtley.
In July, GE and German researchers conducted the first ground test of 100% hydrogen combustion. And recently, GE applied for government funding for a hydrogen hub in Oak Harbor, Ohio.
In the future, NASA says it will ramp up hydrogen research. Sustainability doesn't only have to do with fuel and engines. NASA's McCartney says be prepared for design changes on planes.
"A new X-66 that we're going to build — a new aircraft that looks different from what we see today; a very different kind of tube and wing," he says. "We're working with Advanced Air Mobility and Air Traffic Management that will handle density and diversity of aircraft that we have as well as high speed travel."
Travel that breaks the sound barrier
Another joint venture with GE and NASA involves speed. The Business Journals report, "GE Aerospace will work with NASA to study a next-generation passenger jet concept that could go Mach 4 — four times the speed of sound and as much as five times faster than normal commercial airliners. Key to the project is designing the aircraft to be quiet, avoiding the sonic boom produced by aircraft when they break the sound barrier."