Rolls-Royce has announced that it has run an aircraft engine on hydrogen, a world first for the aviation industry, which is considering using the fuel to decarbonize air travel.
In a joint project with the airline easyJet, the FTSE 100 engineering firm said the ground test was a “major step towards proving that hydrogen could be a zero-carbon aviation fuel of the future.”
The test was conducted outdoors at Boscombe Down, a British military base in Wiltshire. It was powered by a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine, which is typically found in turboprop planes.
On slower-speed short-haul flights, turboprop engines drive a propeller rather than the fan required for faster speeds in jet engines. Rolls-primary Royce’s business is the manufacture and maintenance of jet engines.
Delays at airport security are caused by passengers failing to remove items from their bags or traveling with large bottles of liquids and creams.
Aviation faces one of the most difficult decarbonization tests of any industry, as the world strives to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Most modes of transportation already have alternative power sources, but the energy density requirements for planes have ruled out current battery technology for all but the shortest journeys.
The aviation industry is experimenting with hydrogen, which produces only water when burned, as a possible energy source for some flights, though many analysts are skeptical that it will ever be viable for longer flights. Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder Michael Liebreich calculated that a Boeing 747 jumbo jet would require more than 1 million litres of hydrogen to provide the equivalent range of 250,000 litres of jet fuel.
Fuel tanks of that size, which would also have to be kept at high pressure, would almost certainly necessitate a complete redesign of the vehicle.
Nonetheless, Airbus and Boeing, both Rolls-Royce customers, are making initial forays into developing hydrogen technology. In the short term, they hope that so-called sustainable aviation fuel will help to decarbonize the industry.
The European Marine Energy Centre supplied green hydrogen for the Rolls-Royce tests, which was generated using renewable energy at the center’s hydrogen production and tidal test facility on Eday in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland.
Rolls-Royce’s chief technology officer, Grazia Vittadini, called it an “exciting milestone” and a “landmark achievement.”
“We are pushing the boundaries to discover the zero-carbon possibilities of hydrogen, which could help reshape the future of flight,” she said.
“The UK is leading the global shift to guilt-free flying,” said UK Business Secretary Grant Shapps in a statement. “Today’s test by Rolls-Royce and easyJet is an exciting demonstration of how business innovation can transform the way we live our lives.”
Shapps called it a “true British success story,” though he incorrectly said hydrogen was being used in a “jet engine” for the first time.
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)