Rolls-Royce unveils its new 'turbogenerator' with a new small engine

Aiming to make zero-emission flights more attainable.
Ameya Paleja
The turbogenerator engine from Rolls RoyceRolls-Royce plc/Flickr

Rolls-Royce, the world's second-largest aircraft engine manufacturer, has unveiled a new small engine that it calls the 'turbogenerator' aimed at advancing hybrid-electric flights, the company said in a press release

As we look to electrify transportation, aviation faces a major challenge. Current battery technologies can only support short-haul flights with a few passengers on board. While this can foster a new era of urban transportation through eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, long-haul flights that carry hundreds of passengers over oceans will continue to rely on fossil fuels. 

Research is also ongoing to develop sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) that can be burned on long-distance flights without adding to carbon emissions. Rolls-Royce's 'turbogenerator' fits neatly in the middle by providing a means of hybrid-electric propulsion. 

How does the turbogenerator work? 

With the turbogenerator, Rolls-Royce has found a way to put together its electrical power and propulsion offerings in one engine. The turbogenerator is a fully integrated design which means that all the components of the system, the gas turbine, the generator, and the power electronics fit together to deliver a compact and lightweight engine. 

When equipped with an electric aircraft, the turbogenerator can either power the propellors directly or generate power to charge the onboard batteries. Either way, the generator can be used to increase the overall range of the aircraft or help in increasing the maximum take-off weight, both of which will aid in the advancement of electric air mobility.

The generator can be scaled to deliver power in the range of 500kW - 1,200 kW, helping meet the power demands of various aircraft. The turbogenerator will now undergo further tests to demonstrate its capabilities after Rolls-Royce works with industry partners to try it on its products.  

Decarbonizing aviation

An interesting feature of the engine design is its ability to work with sustainable aviation fuel as well as hydrogen when it becomes available in the future. Hydrogen fuel could be a long-term solution that the aviation industry is looking for as it looks to decarbonize its power demands.

As part of its electric systems offerings, Rolls-Royce also provides microgrid solutions for rapid charging of electric aircraft, the press release said. These grids can be powered by renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, making sure that vertiports built in the future also have access to climate-friendly and sustainable sources of power. 

"Rolls-Royce will scale this technology over time to larger platforms," said Rob Watson, President of Rolls-Royce Electrical. "As part of our strategy, we are looking at offering the complete sustainable solution for our customers. This means extending routes that electric flight can support through our turbogenerator technology. This will advance hybrid-electric flight and mean more passengers will be able to travel further on low to net zero emissions aircraft."