Press Room

10 ways to net zero

28th September 2020

The need to create cleaner, more sustainable forms of power is more urgent than ever. We believe that there are few companies on the planet better placed than Rolls-Royce to help achieve this goal.

As part of the UN Race to Zero campaign, we have pledged to achieve net zero carbon in our operations by 2030. We will also play a leading role in enabling the sectors in which we operate to reach net zero carbon by 2050 by developing new products and technologies.

Later this year, we’ll publish a detailed pathway of how we aim to reach net zero carbon. In the meantime, here are ten ways we’re already working on technology to help achieve our goals.

1. A relentless focus on efficiency

While disruptive technologies have the potential to transform the way we live, incremental improvements in efficiency have ensured that we’ve already come a long way. We’re obsessed with making our products more efficient; we look at every single component of our engines to find efficiencies, reduce fuel burn and lower emissions. Plus, by making our engines more intelligent, we can reduce their environmental impact.

The Trent XWB powers the Airbus A350 and is our most efficient widebody aero engine yet, thanks to a combination of improved technology, lightweight materials, and the continuous improvements in efficiency we’ve made across the Trent family of engines over the past 25 years. A flight on an A350 will produce 25 per cent fewer emissions than the aircraft it usually replaces.

2. Developing next-generation technologies to reduce weight and emissions

As well continuously improving the efficiency of our gas turbine engines, we are also working on revolutionary new engine designs to achieve substantial changes in efficiency. We’re working on UltraFan, a new engine design, which will offer a 25 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and emissions compared to our first Trent engine, the Trent 700.

We’re building the first UltraFan engine demonstrator and will test it in 2021 at our incredible new testbed in Derby, UK. The engine features technologies including lightweight composite fan blades and cases, produced at our state-of-the-art new Composite Technology Facility in Bristol, and the world’s most powerful aerospace gearbox, currently being tested in Germany.

In Defence, we’re playing an integral role in the Team Tempest Combat Aircraft programme. We will deliver a power and propulsion system using advanced composite materials and additive layer manufacturing (or 3D printing) techniques, which will deliver a lightweight, more power-dense system, capable of operating at higher temperatures.

These new technologies will make significant contributions to the efficiency of future aircraft.

3. Making low-carbon energy affordable and investable with compact nuclear power stations

We’re leading a consortium of engineering, manufacturing and construction organisations to develop affordable power stations, by extending the principles of small modular reactor designs to an entire power station. It sounds futuristic, but it utilises the unique skills we’ve accumulated during decades of work in nuclear power.

Each power station can operate for 60 years and will generate 440 megawatts, enough to power a city the size of Leeds. When operated as a fleet, they solve the conundrum of how to create affordable low carbon energy quickly and at scale, with the potential to produce electricity at a similar cost to wind.

With continued support from the UK Government, including a matched-funding approach to help the design to be licensed for construction, we could begin building factories during 2021, with modules to build the power stations being produced by 2024 or 2025. The first power stations will be operational in 2029.

We think our consortium’s compact nuclear power station can become the hub of a decarbonised energy system, providing grid electricity for homes, businesses, schools and hospitals. It could also power industrial sites and be used to manufacture net zero sustainable fuels for land transport and aviation.

4. Accelerating the use of sustainable fuels

Sustainable fuels have the potential to significantly reduce the carbon our engines produce. Almost all our aerospace engines are ready to be used on blends of sustainable, lower-carbon fuels. We think they’re one of the solutions to decarbonise long-haul flight.

However, they are currently not produced at scale, so we’re working with oil and gas companies to develop more sustainable fuel processes and increase the volumes available. We’re also exploring whether a small modular nuclear reactor could be used to power a synthetic fuel plant, and are working with academic partners to create synthetic fuels through electrolysis, known as e-fuels.

We’re also evaluating the use of hydrogen for both aviation and land-based power. Using hydrogen in aviation would need changes to infrastructure and aircraft design, including significant certification work, but could be a potential solution to decarbonising short-haul flight.

5. Championing sustainable power through electrification

We’re working on technology that will electrify train journeys, regional flights, boats and combat aircraft, reducing carbon emissions and creating the potential for emission-free travel in future. We’ve also built an all-electric plane called ACCEL, which will attempt the world speed record next year. This will equip us with knowledge and expertise to develop future electric aircraft.

We’re ushering in a new era of environmentally-friendly, quieter, and more efficient rail travel with our MTU Hybrid PowerPacks, which will be delivered to operators in the UK and Ireland during 2020 and 2021. The PowerPacks house all the systems needed to power a train and can be retrofitted into diesel trains to deliver fuel savings of up to 25 per cent, depending on vehicles, routes and timetables.

We’re testing a hybrid-electric propulsion system designed to power a regional aircraft, and are working on propulsion systems which could power commuter aircraft, making travel quicker, cleaner and quieter than ever before. We’re also incorporating more electric technology into our gas turbine engines, to make them more efficient. Our propulsion system for Team Tempest will integrate more electric technology, providing not just the thrust that propels an aircraft through the sky, but also the electrical power required for all the systems on board.

6. Using microgrids to transition to lower-carbon power

Microgrids are like smaller versions of national energy grids. They have a vital role to play in assisting the world’s transition to lower-carbon power. They bring together energy from different sources such as solar cells, wind turbines and batteries, or diesel or gas-powered generator sets.

Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power can be intermittent because they rely on the weather. By bringing together different sources of energy into one microgrid, we can deliver a continuous supply of energy. We can utilise renewable energy sources as much as possible, without the power cutting out.

Microgrids can either function off-grid or connected to the main power grid. They can seamlessly separate themselves from the main grid in the event of a potential grid fault or emergency, which is an increasingly important feature. We’ve even started using them on our own production sites to help reduce our reliance on grid energy, coupled with on-site renewable power. The microgrid at our Power Systems site in Friedrichshafen, Germany currently delivers around a third of the energy needed at one of the plants during normal working hours, and all of the energy needed at weekends.

We recently expanded our microgrid expertise, creating a microgrid competence centre in Berlin.

7. Using data as a low carbon tool

The more advanced our digital capabilities become, the more they help us to save time and energy, as well as reducing waste. Take testing: we’re using digital twins and are gathering incredible volumes of data to predict how an engine will behave throughout its lifetime. We increasingly use physical tests to validate the findings we’ve already made digitally, which means we can conduct fewer physical tests and avoid unnecessary emissions.

We also use data from our fleet to help airlines use less fuel. We analyse data, including weather and airport operations, and work with airlines to modify their operations to be more fuel efficient. This can be a case of using on-board power units waiting at the gate rather than burning fuel or recommending more efficient routes.

We believe the same principle can be used to address the energy demands of data itself. Volumes of data will continue to balloon as our increasingly connected digital world generates more and more quantities of it. But data requires power to exist, communicate, interact and be stored and processed. Data centres, data transmission and data processing are power hungry. We are beginning to look at how we can use data to help itself become more sustainable, so our growing hunger for connectivity can be powered as efficiently as possible.

8. Reducing waste through digital technology

By using more digital technology in design and manufacturing, we can reduce waste considerably. Advanced manufacturing technologies reduce waste; for example our new Composite Technology Facility in Bristol, UK, uses low-energy, very low emissions processes and features state-of-the-art automated manufacturing methods and materials.

Globally we have targets in place to reduce our total production waste by 25% by 2025, and to stop sending any non-hazardous waste to landfill by the end of 2020.

We are reducing waste when designing engines using virtual reality. Previously, engine mock-ups have been built and then scrapped after use, but increasingly our engineers can work on engine designs in the virtual world.

At the end of an engine’s life (which can be decades; our record for the longest engine in service is more than 35 years), 98% of it can be recycled. Half of that material can be re-used in the aerospace industry, and the rest is used in industries with less arduous requirements for materials, such as golf clubs or cars.

9. Achieving net zero in our operations and facilities by 2030

The investments we’ve made at our facilities are helping us to reduce the environmental impact of our operations. Since 2014, we’ve reduced our global energy use by 26%, and we’re aiming to get to net zero emissions from our operations by 2030.

We’re increasing the use of renewable energy at our sites; in Singapore, more than 11,700 solar panels have been installed on the roof and car park of our Seletar campus. Over its lifetime, this solar scheme is expected to save more than 39,000 tonnes of CO², equivalent to taking 4,770 cars off the road, or planting more than 1.5 million trees.

We’ve reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill by 71% since 2014 and continue to improve our record. During construction of our new testbed in Derby, UK, 98% of all waste has been recycled.

10. Drawing on the world’s best and brightest minds to meet net zero

Our engineers apply their expert knowledge and experience daily to improve the performance and efficiency of our products. They’re consistently the top patent filers in the UK. Among them are our fellowship: a global network of Associate Fellows who are highly specialised in their field.

But no one company or country can solve this challenge alone.

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires systemic change across industries and borders, and we’re well placed to work across economies and industries that will need to make the biggest changes. We work with peers, governments and academic institutions around the world. We’re part of consortiums, industry bodies, advisory boards and expert panels. Only collaboration and global cooperation can achieve these ambitious goals, but we’re convinced that together we can reach net zero.