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GE invests heavily in materials technology for the new LEAP jet engine

By

Mar 11 2015

Close up of LEAP engine developed by CFM partnership between GE Aviation and Snecma of France

Photo by Catherine Bainier-Girard, copyright. Courtesy of Safran.

GE’s new generation jet engine, the LEAP engine will be hundreds of kilograms lighter than its predecessors, largely due to the use of high tech materials.

Lighter weight brings benefits in terms of performance.  The airline industry runs on very tight margins, and aviation fuel costs are some of its highest input costs.  Improving fuel efficiency is therefore what the competitive jet engine market is all about.  In fact, GE claims the LEAP engine will have a 15% improvement on fuel efficiency over the best existing engines.

To stay at the top of their game, GE Aviation has invested heavily on making their next engine a winner.  And it seems to be paying off already.  Still in the Development and Certification stage, they have orders of 6000 engines.

To meet these orders, GE Aviation plans to invest US$3.5 billion in plant and equipment between now and 2017, with most of that spend in the USA.

When you add $1 billion annual spend on jet propulsion R&D for the last two decades, you see that GE is serious about its engines.

A large focus of this development has been in Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMC).  CMC’s can be as strong as metal but much lighter than even titanium. They also withstand much higher temperatures than metal.  So GE has been busy building components for the hot sections of their jet engines with CMC’s.

Replacing metal parts with CMC’s has several advantages; Being lighter, other components can also be scaled down resulting in worthwhile overall weight reductions.  With CMC’s being able to run hotter than metal components they have a reduced need for cooling.  This in turn reduces the number of components and the weight, and improves reliability.  According to GE, this increased heat range also allows them to obtain a better fuel burn resulting in less emissions and better fuel efficiencies.

According to GE, “CMCs will play a key role in the performance of CFM’s LEAP turbofan engine.  Entry into service begins in 2016 for the Airbus A320neo, and 2017 for the Boeing 737max.”

 

CFM international is a joint venture between GE and Snecma of France, and is the developing company behind the LEAP engine.

You may also like our article: GE jet engines use 3D printing

and the specs of the LEAP engine are shown in a pictogram in The new LEAP jet engine - benefits at a glance