How the biggest ever jet engine built by Rolls-Royce is paving the way for an era of low-cost green flying

Over the weekend the EU reached a deal on the world’s first carbon border tax, which will force importers to cover the cost of their carbon emissions. Under systems such as these, SAF may become more attractive.

For holidaymakers, Mr Wareborn believes the higher costs of SAF won’t hurt demand. Fuel typically makes up about 20pc of an airline’s expenditure depending on price at the time, and so doubling the price may only add 20pc to a ticket.

“Which by the way, has already happened,” he says, as a result of rising oil prices earlier in the year, “and demand just keeps going up anyway.”

Velosys’ process for creating SAF uses urban waste run through several chemical processes to make hydrogen and carbon monoxide. These are then run through the company’s reactor and catalyst to make jet fuel, diesel and other fuel.

SAF can be used in existing jet engines with a few modifications – mainly making sure the seals still work with the new fuel – but Rolls-Royce is hoping the UltraFan proves to be a breakthrough moment that ushers in a new era of mass adoption. Testing starts next year.

The company hopes to have both existing engines and new ones using these new fuels by 2030.

Rolls’s Simon Burr says recent moves to improve supply and test the fuel have given the industry some impetus. The UltraFan design itself can probably be squeezed for an extra 10pc efficiency by experimenting with the kind of new, “exotic” materials the prototype uses, he says.

“We feel that things have moved quite rapidly over the last year, in particular, and more demonstrations are giving people confidence,” he says. And that can only increase over time.

Technological developments in the future could also help, he says. While SAF from water and the air is expensive now, as more wind power comes online, something will need to be done with the excess power it produces. SAF is much easier to store than hydrogen alone.

“You’ll get to a point where we think that sustainable aviation fuel is just normal,” Burr predicts.


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