Rolls-Royce is not only known for its legendary (and very expensive) cars, but also for its engine manufacturing division for the aerospace industry, both military and civilian.
The company aims to have 16,000 of these engines in service on military aircraft and a further 13,000 engines on commercial aircraft, an area in which they are now looking to go further with the creation of the Ultrafan, a giant 3.7 metre diameter engine that is set to be a particularly efficient solution for the future.
Roll-Royce and the Carbon fiber as a key element
One of the keys to this gigantic engine is the use of carbon fiber blades manufactured by robots, which have been developed by Rolls-Royce specifically for that work, during the last 10 years of research that the company has invested in that purpose.
The development of these rotors with this material responds to the needs of an industry that is under great pressure to reduce its environmental impact. According to Rolls-Royce, 37,000 new aircraft will be needed over the next 20 years that are more efficient than ever for passenger transport, and the company wants its engines to be an integral part of many of these aircraft.
Carbon fibre reduces engine weight by up to 20%, which is important in achieving greater efficiency. Alan Newby, who is responsible for this development, explains that “we have come a long way, but the challenge is to decouple the growth in (environmentally toxic) emissions from the growth in air traffic.
Although Rolls-Royce and other manufacturers are working on electric and hybrid propulsion systems for aircraft, for those long-haul aircraft the only option at the moment is still the use of jet engines.
The small, iterative improvements they are making to engines are the key. While the advances are perhaps small in a technology that has been in development for decades, each small step helps to make these motors more and more efficient. Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at Teal Group, says that “the evolutionary changes don’t seem very impressive – a 10% reduction here, 12% there – but in the business of airlines with such small profit margins, that’s the difference between life and death.
Supersonic aircraft engines give new ideas
There are other interesting projects underway, such as that of the company Reaction Engines, which with its Sabre engine wants to revive a very special market niche: that of supersonic aircraft. That engine, in fact, proposes flights at Mach 5, which would be twice the speed of the very famous Concorde planes.