GE Research work on decarbonizing air travel cited as contributing to climate goals

The new wave of federal climate and energy funding is expected to benefit some of the work GE Research is doing on cleaner, next-generation technologies.

Technology leaders at GE Research’s Niskayuna headquarters near Albany provided an August 17 update on their work on the potential future of aviation during a tour of two congressmen who helped make pass the Cut Inflation Act, with its hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change.

U.S. Representative Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, chairs the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, and U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright, D-Pennsylvania, chairs the Commerce, Justice and Sciences.

Tonko is a regular guest at GE Research but this was Cartwright’s first visit. Both came away impressed with the work being done in areas such as hybrid-electric aircraft propulsion and hydrogen engines to move people from place to place without creating pollution.

“There’s going to be a revolution in the way people move through the air over the next 10 or 15 years and you’re going to see that revolution right here in Schenectady,” Cartwright said.

Tonko, a long-time proponent of taxpayer investment in technology development, said the kind of public-private partnership at play at GE Research is critical to restoring and maintaining America’s leadership position in innovation.

“You come here and you see all of these aspects of the work that are tied to the work that we’re doing in DC with policy and budgeting that in part provides the resources to do that, to strengthen this partnership with GE in a public-private concept “Tonko said. “That’s how we’re going to make it happen.”

Some aspects of the research have been underway for a decade, and some have moved on to advanced testing.

General Electric announced last month that it had successfully completed the first-ever test of a megawatt-class hybrid electric aircraft propulsion system at simulated altitudes of up to 45,000 feet at NASA facilities in Sandusky, Ohio. .

Mohamed Ali, vice president and general manager of engineering for GE Aerospace, joined Wednesday’s tour at GE Research.

“2025 – we’re going to fly the world’s first electric hybrid,” he said.

Tonko said cutting carbon emissions and accelerating new technologies in many sectors, not just transportation, is the goal of multiple rounds of federal spending, from last fall’s infrastructure bill to computer chip legislation earlier this summer to the Inflation Act signed by President Biden this week.

“These packages have huge incentives for research, for all kinds of future developments,” Tonko said. They will also boost employment, he added.

He acknowledged the possibility that midterm elections could shift power in the House or Senate or both to people who don’t share the same climate change goals, or approach them in the same way. and do not support the same research funding. .

“It’s the earth-shattering stuff that these bills are going to promote,” Tonko said. “It would be terrible if we slowed this down.”

General Electric is just one part of the matrix of public agencies and private companies studying all aspects of alternative flight technologies.

Satish Prabhakaran, GE Research’s technology leader for electric aviation propulsion, cited hydrogen as an example.

Hydrogen generated by green methods – without creating carbon emissions – could be a non-polluting alternative to traditional petroleum-based aviation fuel.

But it must be used in its denser liquid form, rather than as a gas. This requires a refrigerated and pressurized tank. Which increases the weight of the plane, which is potentially a dealbreaker.

Developing a new generation of fuel tanks is therefore a prerequisite, Prabhakaran said. The trade-off between weight for strength and function in the fuel tank, and the potentially resulting need to reduce weight elsewhere, speaks to the need to approach clean flight as a holistic development of whole systems rather than a single revolutionary component.

“It will take a combination of new technologies, smarter aircraft management and new fuels,” Prabhakaran said. “New fuels are an important part of decarbonizing the aviation sector.”

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