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Catalyst Goes SAF: The Start of New Demo with Sustainable Aviation Fuels

December 16, 2021 | by Yari Bovalino
Like every other GE and CFM engine for medium and long-haul aircraft, the new Catalyst is also capable of using so-called biofuels, or Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). GE Aviation has been committed to assessing and qualifying SAF since 2007, working closely with regulatory bodies on certification.

GE Catalyst, the first turboprop engine developed entirely in Europe in the last 50 years, is becoming the new standard in its market segment in terms of flight sustainability. The recent announcement between GE Aviation Czech and the Czech Technical University in Prague CVUT to cooperate on SAF testing will further add to the collaboration between the two Czech players.

Dean Vasalek of the Mechanical Engineering Faculty at Czech Technical University in Prague and Milan Slapak, CEO and General Manager at GE Aviation Czech, sign the collaboration agreement for SAF demo.

The specific aim will be to demonstrate the capabilities of the new Catalyst engine powered by alternative "drop-in" fuel, blended with Jet-A1, the fuel traditionally used in commercial aviation.

"We are enthusiastically opening a new technological chapter in the research and development cooperation with the University, and right on its 5th anniversary," says Milan Slapak, CEO and General Manager of GE Aviation Czech. “And this is just another benefit for the aviation ecosystem that began with the development of digital technologies for the predictive maintenance of turboprop engines, through thousands of hours of testing on the new test cells at the airport of Hradec Kralove, and highlighted by Catalyst’s first flight. I think it's a story of excellent collaboration, of human and technological excellence, unparalleled between industry and academia.”

Operation of the SAF-powered Catalyst will start in early 2022 in the new, advanced test cells located in the outskirts of the Czech capital. The joint team of researchers, experts and engineers from GE Aviation Turboprop, CVUT and Avio Aero have already begun preparation work.

The first operations with the SAF-ready Catalyst will use a mixture consisting of 40% alternative fuel (at present, a mixture consisting of maximum 50% SAF has been certified). The goal of the joint team is to power the Catalyst with 100% SAF within the next 18 months. Meanwhile, operations starting in the new year will allow for a real comparison of CO2 and NOx emissions between the engine running on regular JET A-1 and the SAF blend.

Above: The control room of the Dyno Test cell in Prague where the Catalyst engine is about to start SAF demo testing. Top: From the left, Josef Toman, Test Engineer, and Stefania Tinu, Lead Test Engineer, posing with the Catalyst engine inside the Dyno test cell in Prague.

"The test center for aviation and space research opened in 2016 is the result of excellent work of our faculty in cooperation with GE teams," explains Michael Valasek, Dean of Mechanical Engineering at CVUT. “It's a true ecosystem, with a hundred experts and over twenty PhD students who can rely on applied, empirical research and development thanks to four fully equipped turboprop test cells, a dynamometer, and even a test aircraft."

Since the start of operations, the test center has collected remarkable results cited in over 100 publications, added a dozen international patents and more than 200 terabytes of data generated during engine testing.

“They are a treasure trove for the research of turboprop engine maintenance and ultimately for the future of this technology ecosystem we have set up,” adds Valasek. “They represent a sustainable future, as we are going to work with SAF and expect to add significant results and robust data to the flight test campaign currently underway. This will further validate Catalyst’s compatibility with SAF now and will work exactly in the direction of the European Green Deal.”

From the earliest phases of the Catalyst development, Avio Aero has coordinated the activities, including the work with CleanSky2. Additionally, the engine benefited from the technologies developed in the MAESTRO project. These technologies, including additive manufacturing, have led to the development of an engine designed to drastically reduce its environmental impact.

Sergio Salvano, the new Engineering Leader for GE Aviation Turboprop.

The new revolutionary turboprop engine has another opportunity to drive a more sustainable aviation industry, says Sergio Salvano, Engineering Leader of GE Aviation Turboprop. “According to our initial evaluations, the Catalyst is capable of generating beyond 1 MW of power.” With hybrid-electric already under study in GE, the Catalyst engine architecture could also become the basis for the development of electrified solutions in different segments of air transport.

“The turboprop engine market lends itself favorably to the application of technologies aimed at cutting CO2 emissions,” says Salvano, "Catalyst will be a reference point in this respect, so much so that it is destined to be a crucial part of the journey towards sustainability targeted by the next European program Clean Aviation.”

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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.