Powering defence towards a zero-carbon future – QinetiQ Q&A
Delivering the UK Ministry of Defence’s ambitious net-zero goals requires a holistic approach. Berenice Healey talks to QinetiQ head of power sources Victoria Doherty about the company’s green power solutions and how they fit in its wider sustainability framework.
The US Air Force’s (USAF) initial plan was to award the work sole-source to General Electric (GE). However, as the result of a protest filing, aerospace manufacturer Pratt &Whitney, a Raytheon Technologies subsidiary, also participated in the bid.
After fierce competition, Ohio-based General Electric Edison Works won the contract to deliver 29 engines, including installation and spare parts for the USAF. Deliveries will begin in 2023.
The $1.57bn deal comes in support of the production of 12 F-15EX Eagle II aircraft. There are seven additional options in the contract for the procurement of a further 329 engines with the final delivery to take place in 2031.
The bid makes GE the single provider for the entire USAF Eagle II aircraft fleet. The F-15EX is the latest version of the twin-engine F-15 fighter. It features upgrades with fly-by-wire controls, digital cockpit displays, advanced avionics and BAE Systems electronic warfare technology the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System.
GE spokesperson Cole Massie discusses the technological upgrades of the new engine and how the company managed to outbid other manufacturers.
// Climate change and sustainability strategy lead for the Ministry of Defence Lieutenant General (ret.) Richard Nugee. Credit: GOV.UK
What is your role at QinetiQ?
There are two parts to my role. First of all, I look after our power sources, energy storage and distribution team, looking at what our customers need in the future and making sure we're lining up what we've got for what those needs are from a business development perspective.
Secondly, as part of the chief technology officer team, I'm looking particularly at net-zero and sustainability. Those two things overlap in many spaces, but they're not identical.
// GE’s new engine includes upgrades to the combustor and high-pressure turbine. Credit: US Air Force
How do QinetiQ’s power systems supper defence in achieving net Zero?
We wrote a report a few years ago on powering the electrified battlespace. There's so much investment and technology development in the technology solutions, and often an assumption that power will be available where and when it's needed.
But actually, particularly when you start to pay attention to carbon emissions and net-zero, we realised that assumption is just not always valid. There's a challenge to innovate and create new –not just one-off solutions– but new systems that deliver power where and when you need it in a way that is sustainable and responsible and supports the net-zero goals.
What are new solutions in QinetiQ bring to this space?
We want to highlight the importance of addressing it as a system of systems. Part of what we bring as QinetiQ is that ability to look at what's the customer's mission; how can we do that mission-led innovation where the mission itself is sustainability? A lot of what we're doing is bringing together that ecosystem, for example, working with start-ups, SMEs and academia and bringing together collaborative structures that can deliver what's needed.
At DSEI we showcased our Scalable Ultra-Power Electric-vehicle Battery (SUPErB) cell, which you can charge to 90% and discharge nearly 90% within three minutes using normal lithium-ion chemistry.
Another is the hub drive that allows land platforms to start with hybrid diesel-electric then and then fully to battery later.
The message from the Ministry of Defence is that we no longer need to compromise on capability to deliver sustainable solutions. How is QinetiQ addressing that?
Previously there's been a mindset that you have to either choose capability or green, and that's not acceptable. Part of why we need mission-led, sustainability is because we need to achieve both capability and sustainability.
If we look at the pressures for change, you've got a carbon budget, as well as a financial one. Technology continues to evolve, and you have to be able to deliver new capabilities, and you've also got the resilience threat of operating in a climate-changed world.
What does it mean to operate in a climate-changed world, where, for example, you might experience more extreme weather events? It might change the type of operation that forces have to engage in, and all of those things demand not only greener solutions but also the different, new, better capability that you can achieve when you take on the greener solution.
Conversely, how do the effects of climate change affect power technology?
That ties in with the MOD and RAND report, A Changing Climate, which looks at that duality and how it’s going to affect the defence supply chain. The climate goals come not just out of the need to know that there's a changing environment, which changes the nature of operations, it changes what it means to be resilient.
How does the MOD choose the right battery to use? Suddenly, you have to consider a wider temperature range in which it has to be able to operate and work. It's got to work in hotter environments for longer, for example.
That has a knock-on impact on the supply chain because it demands innovation from the supply chain to not just keep delivering what they've delivered before, but to actually look at what alternative chemistry for a battery will be appropriate to the higher and lower temperatures. Are we going to solve it by cooling a battery?
It affects the supply chain because it drives innovation. And that's where QinetiQ is uniquely positioned to work well, because of the link between academia, start-ups in that ecosystem, where we can look at what are the challenges, what are the gaps, understand what does it mean to try and go net-zero? And I think that's a huge part of the challenge here. You're not just hand waving, saying I want to go net-zero.
How is QinetiQ’s approach to tackling climate change evolving?
We've put together a sustainability framework over the last 10 years to help structure how we think about the estates we own and operate in a way that not only delivers reduce carbon emissions but also enhances biodiversity. We have a number of sites of special scientific interest.
Then we’re using those sites for testing, evaluation training in a way that allows reduced platform use. If you combine live virtual constructive training, then you can deliver the same effect, whilst using the platform for fewer days, so you've done it in a greener way. It gives you the opportunity to experiment with alternative technologies as well.
We're also working as a sustainable innovation partner, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our customers, helping them to understand what their challenges are and how can we help them to achieve them by experimenting with green commercial technologies. In many cases, there will be commercial technologies that can be applied directly to this.
The third pillar is thinking about what QinetiQ has in the way of specific sustainable solutions; a carbon reduction technology portfolio. You can see that, for example, in where we've applied stealth technology to wind turbines to allow them to be situated where they never could have been before because they would disrupt the radar. By applying our stealth technology, you can then put our wind turbines, for example, next to an airport or an airfield, without them disrupting those air operations.
// Main image credit: QinetiQ’s hub drive allows land platforms to transition to hybrid diesel-electric and battery-powered. Credit: QinetiQ