On 9 March, Airbus tested 100% unblended sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on both LEAP-1A engines as part of a new flight test campaign using the best-selling A321 neo aircraft.
1. VOLCAN project
The aircraft departed from Airbus’ headquarters in Toulouse, France, as part of the latest demonstration in the flight test campaign VOLCAN project. The acronym of VOL avec Carburants Alternatifs Nouveaux, is the French for “Flight with new alternative fuels”. According to the giant aerospace manufacturer, since the end of February, the A321 neo aircraft is being closely followed by a data-collecting aeroplane with the aim of gathering information on the non-CO2 emissions and the creation of contrails.
Want to know why our #A321neo was being closely followed by a @DLR_en Falcon 20E? We have been collecting data to better understand the impact of 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (#SAF) on climate-impact emissions.— Airbus (@Airbus) March 9, 2023
Find out more here: https://t.co/n5aubiB0Rp
© @DLR_en and Airbus pic.twitter.com/KTv78OZJBC
Airbus’ VOLCAN partners are the French aerospace companies Safran and Dassault Aviation, along with the ONERA aeronautics research laboratory and the French Ministry of Transport. The project is co-funded by CORAC, the French Council for Civil Aeronautical Research. The aviation industry has been working towards increasing the use of SAF through various initiatives such as incentives for production and use, collaborations between airlines, manufacturers, and fuel suppliers, and research and development to improve the efficiency and scalability of SAF production.
To gather the important information from this flight, a ‘chase aircraft’, a modified Dassault jet from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is flown within 100 metres of the A321neo, using the testbed’s sensors to capture emissions data for detailed analysis. This A321neo is the first Airbus single-aisle aircraft and the latest Airbus aircraft overall – following the A350 and A330MRTT – to test 100% sustainable aviation fuel on both engines. The A321neo version, powered by LEAP-1A engines, is being used for the latest test flights and is providing an opportunity to evaluate the potential benefits of unblended SAF versus conventional aviation fuel.
3. Unblended SAF
The VOLCAN evaluations are focused on the emissions of unblended SAF, which – unlike SAF blends that are increasingly being used in aviation today – is not mixed with any fossil fuels.
Analysing the performance of unblended SAF and its promise in reducing emissions — CO2 and non-CO2 — is an important step toward the decarbonisation of the aviation industry. Currently, all Airbus commercial and military aircraft, as well as helicopters are capable of flying with an up to a 50% blend of SAF, Airbus said. The goal is to ensure 100% SAF capability by 2030 for these products.
The potential to cut emissions by up to 80% — if this fuel is produced from waste cooking oil or agricultural residues — compared to traditional jet fuel highlights the immense possibilities for SAF usage in the aviation sector. Indeed, the use of SAF is one of the key strategies to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon emissions and contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change.