One of the biggest names in aviation, Pratt & Whitney, spent almost twenty years developing the geared turbofan engine that burns 12 to 15% less fuel than other jet engines. The new turbofan engine also cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 1,500 tons/plane yearly. This is one of the most exciting developments commercial aviation has seen in years, and it was the hottest topic at the Eco-Aviation Conference, where the aviation industry spent two days planning the way to a more green future.
“It’s technology like that geared turbofan that’s going to drive fuel efficiency forward for this industry in the short and medium term,” says Earnest Arvi of the Arvi Group. “Alternative fuels show great potential, but they’re decades away.”
Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan significantly advances jet-engine technology. Regular jet engines have fans that absorb air into the combustion chamber. Here the air is compressed, mixed with fuel, and ignited, then it’s blown through a turbine, generating the thrust. It works well, but inefficiently. The fan is connected to the engine and turns at the same speed as the turbine does, and fans work best at low speed, while turbines work best at high speed.
Pratt & Whitney solved the fan-turbine speed issue by inserting a gearbox that lets the fan and turbine spin independently. The fan is larger and it spins at 1/3 of the turbine’s speed, creating a quieter and more powerful engine the company says eats up less fuel, emits less C02 and its maintenance costs 30% less.
The working principle sounds good, but Pratt & Whitney has been testing the engines quite a while, and its engineers have simulated more than 40,000 takeoffs and landings.