In a world first, Rolls-Royce have successfully run an aircraft engine on hydrogen. While it’s still early days, this marks a huge step towards decarbonising air travel as it is a significant contributor to overall CO2 emissions, making up 3% of global emissions just on its own.
Rolls-Royce have stated that the ground test used a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine. It used green hydrogen created by wind and tidal power harvested from the Orkney Islands of Scotland. The company along with its testing partner, easyJet, are trying to prove that you can use hydrogen safely and efficiently in aero engines. Their hope is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
A second set of tests have already been planned with the hope that in the long-term that they can carry out proper flight tests.
Chief Technology Officer of Rolls-Royce, Grazia Vittadini, said that this has been a very promising start in what has only been a short time, “The success of this hydrogen test is an exciting milestone. We only announced our partnership with easyJet in July and we are already off to an incredible start with this landmark achievement. We are pushing the boundaries to discover the zero carbon possibilities of hydrogen, which could help reshape the future of flight.”
Rolls-Royce aren’t the only ones dipping their toes into hydrogen-based technology as Airbus are working with CFM International to test hydrogen propulsion technology as well. Though since they announced their plans in February, nothing has materialised.
Switching to hydrogen-powered engines is no easy task as it isn’t simply a case of replacing the engines on existing planes. It would require a complete redesign of the airframes, which is the structure that includes the fuselage, undercarriage, empennage, and wings. Not only that, but infrastructure at airports would have to be changed as well. The changes are so big that it may take more than one generation of aircraft to be fully implemented.
As Eric Schulz, chief executive of SHZ Consulting, told Reuters that, “Hydrogen is absolutely a solution, but it’s not for tomorrow morning because the changes to be done in design are so massive that it’s going to take more than one generation of airplanes to get there.”
While there is still plenty of debate about what viable solutions to the environmental impact of flight actually are, it seems that the industry has gotten the message and are trying to create sustainable options for the future.
For more, check out Rolls-Royce’s first electric car, the Spectre.