Washington, June 29 : Scientists have developed a jet engine that burns less fuel and emits less carbon dioxide than similar engines, a development many experts say could lead commercial aviation to a greener future far sooner than alternative fuels.
The jet engine has been designed by Pratt and Whitney, who specialize in design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines.
This engine is more efficient, less polluting and cheaper to use than almost everything else in the sky, and it could revolutionize an industry facing skyrocketing fuel prices and mounting pressure to clean up its act.
Pratt and Whitney has spent the better part of two decades developing the geared turbofan engine that burns 12 to 15 percent less fuel than other jet engines and cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 1,500 tons per plane per year.
It's being called one of the most exciting developments commercial aviation has seen in years.
"It's technology like that geared turbofan that's going to drive fuel efficiency forward for this industry in the short and medium term," said Earnest Arvi of the Arvi Group. "Alternative fuels show great potential, but they're decades away," he added.
Nearly 1,000 planes flown by domestic carriers will be more than a quarter of a century old by 2015, and Boeing officials have said that more than 10,400 new planes will be needed in the coming decades and making them as green as possible will go a long way toward reducing commercial aviation's carbon footprint.
Current jet engines have fans that suck air into the combustion chamber, where it is compressed, mixed with fuel, and ignited. Then, it's blown through a turbine, generating thrust.
It works, but it's inefficient because the fan is connected to the engine and turns at the same speed as the turbine. Fans work best at low speed, while turbines work best at high speed.
Pratt and Whitney solved that problem with a gearbox that lets the fan and turbine spin independently.
The fan is larger and it spins at one-third the speed of the turbine, creating a quieter, more powerful engine the company says requires less fuel, emits less C02 and costs 30 percent less to maintain.
According to Alan Epstein, the company's VP of Technology and Environment, the engine will not only cut CO2 emissions, but will also reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions, noise and ultimately ownership costs.
"For the next generation of single-aisle aircraft, there's no question that engine performance will be key," said Epstein. "Both economically and environmentally, this engine will deliver significant benefits," he added.
Pratt and Whitney expects to have the engine in regular service by 2013.