Solvay has been a long-time partner of airplane engine manufacturer Safran. This collaboration, which has led to the creation of new generation of lighter, more efficient and less noisy engines, was recently renewed with the  signing of a new long-term agreement.

In 2018, Solvay and Safran announced a supply agreement by which the chemical Group would continue to supply the engine manufacturer with its advanced materials for the construction of the LEAP engine, co-developed with GE via jointly-owned company CFM. “The LEAP engine's design fully leverages the benefits of composite materials to reduce fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, noise levels and maintenance costs,” sums up Carmelo Lo Faro, President of Solvay’s Composite Materials Global Business Unit. In May 2019, this agreement was complemented with a new contract for the supply by Solvay of high temperature composites and adhesives that Safran will use on several of their critical engine components. 

Far-reaching and integrated collaboration

The signing of these supply agreements are the latest steps in a collaboration between the two companies that has been ongoing for some years. “Safran has been using our resins for over ten years, and we have worked closely with their R&D functions over much of that time to build upon the success of Solvay products at Safran,” explains Jonathan Meegan, Principal Scientist at Solvay. “Several collaborations in the areas of liquid molding resins, prepregs, adhesives and computational modelling have been initiated with the purpose of taking the Safran and Solvay product offering to the next level".

“We also needed to work closely with Safran from a procurement and operational standpoint, to make sure we could support the kinds of volumes they will need,” explains Etienne Collart, Aerospace Account Manager at Solvay’s Composite Materials GBU. “We made the necessary investment ahead to support this program’s needs. Further investment will follow to ensure we make good use of our latest operational technology and mitigate risk.”

The many advantages of using composites

LEAP engines are already available on the market – its various design versions were introduced to power the COMAC C919 in 2017, the Airbus A320 in 2016 and they became key components of Boeing's fleet in 2017. The engine makes use of a number of composite components including a composite fan blade, case, platforms and spacers to achieve a significant weight reduction in comparison to non-composite designs. This weight reduction translates as a reduction in fuel consumption and engine emissions, amongst other benefits, all of which have made the LEAP series of engines desirable to aircraft manufacturers.

“As Safran launches new engine developments onto the market, Solvay is proud to be a part of that process, as well as contribute to the development and advancement of the composite materials industry towards a cleaner future for everyone,” says Jonathan. 

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In it for the long haul

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Test bench of LEAP-1B, Copyright Béa Uhart / CAPA Pictures / Safran

“Composites have been used in plane engines in the past,” says Etienne, “but not on this scale of industrialization. A high-volume engine such as LEAP is driving the market to implement automated solutions with composites, and that’s a real game changer. This is significant for Solvay who is historically the leading supplier of resin for this market.”

“Safran have been working on this technology since 2000,” adds Etienne. “Engine technology maturation is a very long process, and no one can afford to be late on this market. But these engines will be around for the next 30 years at least.”