Why Rolls-Royce Is Shifting Away from Electric and Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft

Rolls-Royce has announced a strategic shift from electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft towards focusing on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as the primary method for large jets to meet net-zero climate goals. This move, highlighting a significant realignment in the company's approach.
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Rolls-Royce, a leading player in aerospace engineering, is changing course. The company’s CEO, Tufan Erginbilgic, has expressed doubts about hydrogen’s imminent role in aviation, marking a shift towards sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as the primary avenue for large jets to achieve net-zero climate goals.

 

The aerospace giant, known for its collaborations with easyJet in hydrogen technology, is now redirecting its focus. As part of its strategic realignment, Rolls-Royce plans to divest its electrical propulsion unit, which develops systems for various aircraft, including flying taxis. This decision underscores a significant shift towards more immediate and viable solutions for sustainable aviation.

 

In contrast to Rolls-Royce’s renewed focus on conventional propulsion systems, Airbus SE continues to invest in hydrogen-powered planes, aiming for operational status by 2035. This divergence signifies different perspectives within the industry on the future of sustainable aviation.

 

Despite being part of a new alliance with Airbus, EasyJet, and Ørsted for hydrogen-powered aviation, which was initiated in September 2023, Rolls-Royce is firm in its stance. Erginbilgic, a former executive at BP Plc, aims to quadruple operating profit and enhance cash flow, emphasizing the practicality of SAF over electric and hydrogen alternatives.

 

The shift has significant implications for the industry, as SAF, while more environmentally friendly than oil-based jet fuel, faces challenges in supply, costs, and feedstock. Rolls-Royce’s strategy reflects a pragmatic approach to achieving sustainability in aviation while navigating these challenges.

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