After decades of development, scientists at GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York, say they have perfected a material made of silicon carbide that could lead to fuel-efficiency gains in commercial aircraft, according to a news report in the Albany Times Union newspaper. The material­­—as strong as metal yet lighter and better able to withstand extreme heat—is known as ceramic matrix composites.

GE has been developing the composites with an eye on using it in aircraft engines and power plant turbines. The material will debut next year in the Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion (LEAP) engine. Developed by GE in partnership with French aircraft engine manufacturer Snecma, the LEAP promises a 15% increase in fuel efficiency and annual cost savings of $3 million per plane.

GE's ceramic parts are said to be one-third the weight of metal parts and can survive at 2,400 degrees Celsius—about 500 degrees Celsius higher than nickel alloy parts—which can glow from the heat generated by an aircraft engine. As a result, the ceramic parts require less cooling.

The order backlog for the LEAP already totals some $100 billion, the newspaper says. Full production of the engines, which cost $13 million each, begins in 2016. The LEAP engine will first be used in the Airbus A320neo, the Boeing 737 MAX and the COMAC C919, a Chinese airplane.

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