Rolls-Royce invests around £800m a year in research and development, a significant proportion of it aimed at improving the environmental performance of products and operations. The R&D programme operates at three stages - strategic (or basic) research, applied research and technology validation. Progressing technology through each stage can take many years.
Rolls-Royce is a key partner in ACARE (the Advisory Council for Aerospace Research in Europe), which is committed to developing technology that can help to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% per passenger kilometre by 2020 relative to a 2000 baseline. This goal requires improvements to be made in engines and aircraft as well as air traffic management and operations.
The Environmentally Friendly Engine programme will be a key contributor to meeting this target by reducing engine emissions by 10-15%. The £95m programme is led by Rolls-Royce and includes industrial and university partners throughout the UK. Over half the investment will come directly from industry with the remainder funded by government agencies. Reducing CO2 beyond 2020 will require game-changing technologies that are currently emerging or as yet unproven.
One is the open rotor engine, which could save 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a year per aircraft on a 100 to 200-seater airplane.18 While previously researched in the 1980s the technology was never developed to commercialisation, in part due to lower oil prices and the significantly higher noise level. Re-engineering the design and progress in aerodynamic and acoustic modelling mean the new engine could provide significant CO2 reductions while also improving noise levels compared with today's planes. The design uses two sets of propeller-type rotors which can be positioned at the front or rear of the engine. These rotate in opposite directions, reducing energy wasted from twisted air. By increasing the number of blades, changing their shape and making them thinner, Rolls-Royce believes the rotors will make less noise by rotating at lower speeds
Q. Is it not the case that aviation in general, and Rolls-Royce in particular represent the most significant threat to the environment?
A. Aviation does create CO2 emissions but globally aviation currently accounts for around 2% of man-made CO2 emissions, compared with 16% from other forms of transport and over 30% from electricity and heat supply. So it's not as much as others, but nevertheless we are still working hard to reduce this as much as possible.
Q. What is Rolls-Royce doing to address the issue of climate change?
A. A top priority is to