Reflecting on a recent visit to NASA, GE Aviation President and CEO John Slattery wrote this week that decarbonizing aviation was “our industry’s moonshot.” Now GE engineers and the U.S. space agency get to work on the moonshot together.
NASA awarded GE $179 million to help mature electric flight propulsion technologies today. Investments by GE and its partners will bring funding for the project to $260 million.
Specifically, the agency selected GE and MagniX USA, which will receive just over $74 million, “to support its Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) that will rapidly mature Electrified Aircraft Propulsion (EAP) technologies through ground and flight demonstrations.”
GE will help NASA and its partners to “accelerate the transition of EAP technologies into commercial products and be a catalyst for economic growth,” said NASA’s Robert Pearce, associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “We expect to realize significant improvements in the economic and environmental performance of subsonic transports through incorporation of these novel alternative propulsion and energy technologies into the fleet.”
The agency said in a news release that over five years, “the selected companies will conduct ground and flight test demonstrations of their EAP technologies applicable to commercial aircraft transports. They will collaborate with other NASA projects on EAP development, flight test instrumentation, and data analysis. And they will stimulate spiral developments of megawatt-class EAP systems and technology.”
Last year, GE made a commitment to becoming carbon neutral in its own operations by 2030. In GE’s 2020 Sustainability Report, released in early July, the company went even further, with an ambition to reach net zero by 2050, including Scope 3 emissions from the use of sold products.
Slattery recently pointed out that GE spent $1.8 billion in 2020 on aviation research and development, including new advanced materials and technologies that can help cut fuel consumption and enable hybrid electric design. One recent example is the CFM RISE Program, short for Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines. Announced in June by CFM International, a 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, the technology demonstration program aims to improve fuel efficiency in new engines by more than 20% by the middle of the next decade. The project includes hybrid electric research.
Scientists at GE Research are also working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) division to design an electricity-driven propulsion system both powerful and light enough to keep aloft a 175,000-pound commercial airliner and its 175 passengers.
Tomas Kellner is a writer for GE.