GE’s Slattery Calls Hydrogen Power the ‘Real Nirvana’

 - June 24, 2021, 4:42 PM
GE Aviation CEO John Slattery (Photo: GE Aviation)

The boss of GE Aviation expressed confidence that everybody across the air transport business, including airlines, believes in the “noble cause” of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, not least because customers increasingly want it. Passengers eventually will want to know each of their flights’ carbon footprint, either out of environmental concerns or to know how much tax they will need to pay on their carbon production, John Slattery asserted during a Eurocontrol Straight Talk session on Thursday. “Collectively the industry will get there,” he said, stressing GE Aviation is playing its role to achieve the industry’s challenge to halve carbon emissions by 2050.

Slattery pointed to the recently announced Rise (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) development program of its engine joint venture with Safran, CFM International, which aims for a 20 percent improvement in fuel burn and CO2 emissions compared with today’s CFM Leap family.  “This will be the single largest leap in fuel burn reduction ever seen,” he said. “If you would apply this to the narrowbody fleet, it would be equivalent to removing more than 17 million cars from the roads.”

The CFM Rise hybrid electric advanced open fan demonstrator would run on either 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) or liquid hydrogen. “Hundred percent SAF will result in an 80 percent reduction in lifecycle CO2 emissions, while green hydrogen would reduce CO2 by 100 percent. Hydrogen will get us to the nirvana of flight with zero carbon emissions,” he said.

Slattery, who joined GE Aviation as CEO last September 1, acknowledged it will require a lot of work to industrialize a hydrogen-burning engine but that a clear technology path exists. “The actual physics are very doable,” he said. However, he cautioned that making hydrogen, like SAF, viable will require the support of policymakers and regulators.

SAF is “clearly a first step” to a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions, he said, adding that the industry is working with regulators to define standards for a 100 percent use of SAF, or double the blend now allowed. Current engines would require only minor modifications to run on 100 percent SAF, he noted, describing the availability of SAF as “the big issue.”

“If [Lufthansa group CEO] Carsten Spohr or [Air France-KLM group CEO] Ben Smith were to fly the Lufthansa or Air France-KLM fleet on SAF, they would burn the world’s available SAF in one day,” he noted.

The Covid-19 crisis and the Boeing 737 Max grounding had a “very meaningful” effect on GE Aviation’s business, Slattery said, while stressing he sees a clear improvement in the sector with a rise in new aircraft and engine orders and travel demand. “We are seeing a lot of momentum and we are preparing for that run,” he said.