General Electric Co said on Wednesday it will spend more than $200 million to build two factories in Alabama to expand its capacity to make high strength materials for jet engines and power plant turbines.
The plants in Huntsville will produce silicon-carbon ceramic materials for LEAP engines on thousands of single-aisle Boeing and Airbus jetliners sold for delivery over the next decade. The LEAP engine was developed by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and France’s Snecma (Safran) .
The ultra-light materials also will be used in military engines, GE9X engines for Boeing’s 777X jetliner and gas-fired power turbines, GE said.
With $21.9 million in U.S. Air Force funding, one of the factories will make silicon carbon fibers under license from NGS Advanced Fibers, a joint venture of Nippon Carbon Co Ltd, Safran and GE.
The adjacent plant will make ceramic matrix composite (CMC) tape, a long, stiff material that will be used by GE’s recently finished plant in Asheville, North Carolina, to make jet engine parts.
Construction on a 100-acre site is scheduled to start in mid-2016. Production is due to start in 2018. The factories will eventually employ 300 workers.
The factories will supply more CMC materials as GE and CFM ramp up engine production. CFM expects to turn out 1,800 LEAP engines a year by the end of the decade, GE said.
CMC parts resist higher temperatures and have about one-third the weight of current metal alloys, so their use in the engine’s high-pressure turbine would make it more fuel-efficient, GE said.
CMC is a significant shift in engine materials away from heavier metal alloys, GE said, noting it has been developing CMC for more than two decades.
“We pretty much got to the point where you run out of the capability of metal,” said Sanjay Correa, vice president of the CMC program at GE Aviation.
GE said it will offer CMC parts to retrofit older engines, and that the silicon-carbon fiber produced in Huntsville will be available to other companies.
Written by Alwyn Scott of Reuters