GE has spent the last three decades developing a special kind of heat-resistant ceramic that is as tough as steel. The material, called a ceramic matrix composite (CMC), can withstand temperatures approaching 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, where even the most advanced alloys grow soft.
GE Aviation started using CMC parts inside efficient jet engines like the LEAP, which powers the latest Airbus, Boeing and Comac planes. CFM International, the 50-50 joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines that developed the LEAP engine, has sold almost 14,000 of them, valued at more than $200 billion (U.S. list price). The GE9X, the world’s largest jet engine, which GE developed for Boeing’s next-generation 777X plane, will also have CMC parts.
The latest gas turbines from GE Power already work inside record-breaking power plants. In 2016, a power station owned by the French utility EDF reached 62 percent efficiency. Guinness World Records anointed the station as the world’s most efficient combined-cycle power plant. GE engineer John Lammas, chief technology officer for GE Power’s gas turbine business says that CMCs will help push efficiency to 65 percent.