Power generation for the next generation

Rolls Royce looking at the engines of the future
Images: Supplied by Rolls-Royce Power System

Andreas Goertz outlines the evolving energy of engines.

While today’s power generation equipment is powered predominantly by fossil fuels, the outlook for the future of power generation is overwhelmingly clear.

In the not-so-distant future, these systems must produce clean energy from sustainable sources to comply with the target of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We believe the way humans use power must become climate neutral. For us, that transition is both a societal imperative and the greatest commercial opportunity of our time.

This article was originally published in Power Engineering International 4-2021.

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That is why we, the Power Systems business unit of Rolls-Royce, are positioning ourselves and our products for a more climate-neutral future by aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% compared to our 2019 level by using new net zero products and technologies.

This near-term target plays a significant role in the overall Rolls-Royce Group ambition to achieve net zero by 2050 at the latest.

Key to this mission is our strategy to boost sales of eco-friendly energy and propulsion systems, which we view as growth opportunities for our business.

To make as big an impact as possible in the fight against climate change, the first priority of Power Systems is to realign our mtu product portfolio towards sustainability, which is where we currently see the largest potential for reducing emissions.

Fuel efficiency improvements and exhaust

emission reductions of ICE have made

significant steps over the past few years and

will continue to do so

Our teams have already made considerable progress by testing lower carbon alternative fuels and developing advanced engine designs to further increase fuel efficiency.

We are also pioneering breakthrough technologies to decarbonize the complex, carbon-intensive sectors in which we operate and power sustainable economic growth.

Decarbonizing the powertrain

Rolls-Royce’s mtu liquid-fuelled engine portfolio in power generation, which will be able to run on sustainable synthetic fuels from as early as 2022, plays a large part in reaching our goal.

In the past, the development focus for traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) was on improving efficiency and increasing power density. In recent years, the focus has changed to the decarbonization of the powertrain.

While many propulsion-related discussions of today’s engines are centred on the high volume of engines produced for the automotive industry, certain technology advances in the on-highway market have been and will be transferred and innovated into the off-highway market.

Fuel efficiency improvements and exhaust emission reductions of ICE have made significant steps over the past few years and will continue to do so.

However, those alone will not be enough to reach our 2030 goal, which is why new technologies must be developed and deployed, which will gradually replace conventional fossil-fuelled ICE.

Besides continuous fuel efficiency and emissions reduction efforts for fossil-fuelled ICE, we feel the following technological principles have the most leverage for emissions reduction:

  • Usage of combustion engines with sustainable, non-fossil fuels, such as synthetic fuels or e-fuels often referred to as Power-to-X; fuels like eDiesel, eHydrogen and HVO; and also second generation bio-fuels.
  • Enable our mtu natural gas engine fleet to run on hydrogen blending in a transition period and to be modified to run on 100% green hydrogen as soon as it is available. This is also a sustainable solution for CHP applications. Additionally, fuel cells running on 100% green hydrogen can play an important role in combination with renewables and Power-to-X.
  • Hybrid, decentralized power stations with a combination of the aforesaid green energy producing units, renewable energies such as solar power and battery storage systems. These microgrid solutions can be operated on or off-grid and play a significant role in the energy transition with a very decentralized and autonomous approach.

For a specific example, new generations of our mtu Series 2000 and Series 4000 engines will be qualified to run on second generation bio-fuels and on e-fuels.

These engines are used in energy supply, as well as in commercial shipping, heavy land vehicles, passenger trains and in yachts.

Development engineers are also working on engines powered by hydrogen and methanol, as well as on concepts for decentralized Power-to-X systems.

Sustainable solutions

Beginning in 2025, new technologies that Rolls-Royce’s Power Systems division has been developing, such as CO2-free fuel cell systems, will be used in power generation solutions – from balancing energy for compensating fluctuations in the public grid to continuous power and the provision of emergency power in locations such as hospitals and data centres.

Sustainable solutions that are already featured in our portfolio for decentralized, environment-friendly power solutions – such as battery energy storage systems, hybrid propulsion systems for marine and rail applications, and microgrids – will continue to advance.

Image credit: Rolls-Royce

For our standby power applications, which can encompass several hundred gigawatts of installed capacity around the globe, a sustainable solution must include the installed fleet. This is where eco-friendly fuels will be essential.

For new standby power installations, ultra-fast-start hydrogen engines or fuel cells will be an option, once the hydrogen infrastructure is in place.

For continuous power generation and peak shaving, the use of natural gas units with a transition from hydrogen blending to 100% hydrogen, even for combined heat and power, are reliable options. Plus, hybrid offerings and microgrids can reduce greenhouse gas emissions following the same transition into hydrogen power.

Even today, natural gas-powered combined heat and power/combined cooling heat and power units can reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly compared to actual power generation by coal, HVO or single-cycle natural gas power stations.

Of course, to what extent these efforts will become reality depends on several drivers to be in place, such as sustainable finance standards, market framework regulations such as CO2 price or CO2 emissions limits, a global alignment on standards, and the energy supply chain, including the availability of infrastructure.

We are preparing for a technology mix of ICEs and electrical and strongly believe that battery systems will play an increasingly important role in all our applications. Especially in combined technology solutions, batteries will allow us to cope with the inherent peak demands in the public grids.

Impactful milestones

As a specialist for propulsion and energy solutions, Rolls-Royce is aiming for impactful milestones with its efforts.

To put things in perspective, our Power Systems products sold in 2019 before the pandemic will generate some 109 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over their service life in the field – almost double that emitted by the Greater London region every year. That results in our company having a lot of leverage in terms of lowering emissions.

Image credit: Rolls-Royce

Beyond ourselves, however, policymakers play a vital part here as well: to put in place stable framework conditions for sustainable energy solutions in the areas of industry in which we operate, thereby providing clear incentives to participate in the changeover to sustainable products.

And no individual company, sector or technology has all the answers. While we see a momentum in the market and our customer base, the willingness to deploy new sustainable technologies is very different across different customer groups.

Regulatory frameworks and policies are major drivers, but equally important is the individual interest of major industry players.

Therefore, technological change will not happen simultaneously across all segments – it will occur at various rates as each industry grapples with its own energy transition.

There is no doubt that there will be several twists and turn on the path to net zero. It may not even be that everyone takes the same path. Regardless of the route, we are committed to support the society to move into a greener future for all of us.


Andreas Goertz is Vice President of Power Generation at Rolls-Royce Power Systems.

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