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Turning the Skies Green: Cleaner, Greener Tech at the Clean Sky 2 Conference in Brussels

April 30, 2019 | by Yari Bovalino
European citizens fly. A lot.

There were more than 9.5 million flights in and out of Europe in 2017, an 8 percent increase since 2014, and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) estimates a 42 percent increase in total flights by the year 2040. But that doesn’t mean that Europeans are ambivalent about their collective carbon footprint. Far from it. Clean Sky 2, the continent’s largest aeronautical research program, is focused on reducing the CO2, NOx emissions, and noise pollution produced by air travel.

The pointy end of the spear in Europe’s fight against environmental degradation from above is Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking, a public-private partnership formed by the European Commission and the leading continental companies in the sector, including Airbus, Safran, Dassault Aviation, Leonardo and Rolls Royce.

Clean Sky 2 hosted its annual conference in Brussels on April 9 and 10 to share technological advances, testing results, and prospects for the next editions of the program within the wider European research platform known as Horizon 2020. The event was attended by representatives from major industrial leaders along with those of core partners, including Avio Aero and several GE Aviation teams based in Europe. Over all, 420 small and medium enterprises, over 373 specialized research centers, and 350 renowned universities from 28 countries participate in the Clean Sky 2 program.

This group of scientists, technicians, engineers and manufacturers has for years been studying and even implementing or applying unique and innovative technological solutions entirely aimed at gradual de-carbonization. Thanks in part to the implementation of technologies championed by Clean Sky 2, by 2050, 75 percent of the commercial fleets currently in service in the world will be replaced by aircraft that could potentially reduce the amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere by 4 billion tons.

The GE Aviation team attended the Conference came from Italy, Czech Republic and Germany.

The span of influence is very wide. Since Clean Sky 2 was initiated in 2014, the projects have expanded to the small air transport sector, as well as electric and hybrid propulsion. Clean Sky 2's new technologies range from the design of wing and fuselage structures that use revolutionary materials to reduce weight, improve performance and lower fuel consumption to long-range aircraft with new engine architectures and cutting-edge digital instrumentation. Innovations in aerodynamics, aeroacoustics, regional and high-speed transport, and manufacturing processes such as additive aim to recycle materials and limit the pollution produced even in airports.

“Our guiding light is minus-80 percent greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore the reduction of the global temperature by 1.5 or 2 degrees,” says Axel Krein, executive director of Clean Sky 2 JU. These objectives stem from the Paris Climate Conference and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) laid out in the United Nation’s Agenda 2030, 15 of which the aviation sector plays a key role in. “In Clean Sky 2, we have reached 50 percent of achievement of the many projects in progress,” Krein says. “And we will reach two-thirds completion by the end of the year thanks to the over 5,000 engineers and scientists working on our projects.”

Krein is already looking ahead to the work that will follow on Clean Sky 2 when it sunsets in 2024. “I think the next challenge will be to synchronize the program’s ambitions with the available budget.”

Ron Van Manen, Program Manager of the Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking, is also looking to the future. “I would be willing to work on the planning of Clean Sky 3 and even Clean Sky 4,” he says. “Ours is a battle against climate change. It is a generational mission: What world do we want to leave to our grandchildren? There is no planet B, only our planet we live in.”

Third from the right, Franco Tortarolo, R&TD EU Programs leader for Avio Aero, during his panel on the conference’s stage with Ron Van Manen, Clean Sky 2 Program Manager, second from the left.

Van Manen’s work focuses on the new generation of green aeronautical products that move toward the absolute integration of engine and aircraft. In engineering jargon this is known as “distributed propulsion”—engines are distributed around an aircraft to lower emissions and noise, and improve fuel efficiency and handling. Clean Sky’s flagship project—RACER, or Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft, a hybrid aircraft being developed by Airbus Helicopters—is a prime example. Equipped with a helicopter rotor and two counter-rotating propellers on the lateral wings, this technology demonstrator has an avant-garde design and a transmission system built by Avio Aero with technologies and components developed at GE Aviation sites all over Europe.

Indeed, engineers from Avio Aero’s Research & Technology Development teams are working closely with GE Aviation engineering teams in Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and the UK on four other demos and 10 development projects for Clean Sky 2. “If we think of some of the many projects that Avio Aero follows in Clean Sky, these move exactly in that direction,” Van Manen says. “They are all very stimulating and important precisely because they go in the direction of integration and large-scale demonstration.” RACER is currently on track to fly by 2020.

“The network of GE Aviation in Europe, which is made up of engineering centers and plants but collaborates also a lot with university and SMEs, is actively taking on these challenges for the industry’s global sustainability since the birth of Clean Sky,” adds Van Manen.

Avio Aero and GE Aviation were well represented at the Clean Sky conference in Brussels. Engineers from the Italian Headquarters, the Aviation Advanced Technology Center in Munich, and the GE Aviation Czech Turboprop Headquarters introduced Maestro, a disruptive research project that aims to revolutionize the components in future turboprop engines with the help of additive technology. The future of green aeronautics is now.

Interested in learning more about Maestro and GE Aviation Europe’s involvement in Clean Sky 2? Press play!

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.