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UK’s Future in Hydrogen-Powered Aviation: Accelerating Zero Carbon Flight

Hydrogen’s potential as the future fuel for aviation is no longer a distant dream, thanks to the formation of the Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA) alliance. This collaboration of critical stakeholders—easyJet, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Ørsted, GKN Aerospace, and Bristol Airport—aims to advance zero-carbon aviation in the UK.

The Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA) alliance of major players across aviation will work to accelerate hydrogen-powered aviation for a zero carbon future.
Airbus’ Future Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft could take to the skies as soon as 2035. Source: Airbus

The Aim of the HIA Alliance

A key initiative in the UK’s strategy for green aviation, the HIA aims to:

  • Push for the UK’s dominance in hydrogen-powered aviation.
  • Highlight hydrogen as the prime candidate for decarbonizing the aviation sector. Importantly, they explore other options like sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), synthetic fuels, and batteries.
  • Advocate for the required infrastructure and policy enhancements to support carbon-free flight.

Advances in Hydrogen-Powered Aviation

Several advancements underscore the UK’s readiness for hydrogen:

  1. Airbus is engineering new hydrogen-powered aircraft, aiming for them to commence commercial service by 2035.
  2. After successful ground tests in 2022, Rolls-Royce has shown that jet engines can run on hydrogen.
  3. Startups like ZeroAvia and Universal Hydrogen made significant strides with their hydrogen-powered aircraft. They have already conducted flight tests.

With such significant research and development backing, the HIA will collaboratively draft a clear route to achieving hydrogen-fueled aviation in the UK.

The Economic Promise of Hydrogen-Power

Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet and the inaugural Chair of HIA, sheds light on the potential.

“There is no doubt that the UK has the potential to become a world leader in hydrogen aviation, which could bring with it a £34bn per annum boost to the country’s economy by 2050, but in order to capture this opportunity, rapid change is needed and the time to act is now.

“We must work together to deliver the radical solutions required for a hard to abate industry like aviation so we can protect and maximise the benefits that it brings to the UK economy and society and that we know British consumers want to be preserved. 

“HIA looks forward to working with the UK Government to ensure the right funding, regulatory and policy changes are implemented to accelerate the delivery of zero carbon aviation.”

Engine Technology for Hydrogen-Powered Aviation

Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer at Rolls-Royce, said of the engine technology required to power flights with hydrogen :

“Collaboration is key when it comes to achieving our net zero ambitions as an industry, which is why we are proud to be part of the Hydrogen in Aviation Alliance. Our contribution to HIA is our capability and experience in pioneering new technologies and solutions – we have already tested a modern aero engine on green hydrogen, and we strongly believe it is one of the solutions that will help decarbonize aviation in the mid-to-long term.”

Aircraft Technology Advances

Sabine Klauke, Chief Technology Officer at Airbus said of aircraft development:

“As Airbus continues to mature the aircraft technologies needed to deliver hydrogen-powered flight, a united industry voice is needed to secure a robust ecosystem of renewable sourced hydrogen. Joining our peers from across the UK aviation landscape in a targeted approach to policy and investment action brings us closer to a decarbonized future of flying.” 

Ensuring Green Hydrogen Supply

Olivia Breese, Senior Vice President and Head of Power-to-X for Ørsted, commented on the supply chain for hydrogen:

“Ørsted is fully committed to renewable hydrogen as a key solution to defossilise hard-to-electrify sectors such as aviation. Our long experience in developing and deploying new technologies has taught us that collaboration across policymakers, developers, customers and supply chain – and considerable investment from each of them – is critical to bring down costs and drive a new sector to scale. Alliances such as the HIA are essential to bring together different actors across the value chain to support and accelerate the role hydrogen can, and must, play in the UK.”

Why Power Aviation with Hydrogen?

Hydrogen’s promise as an aviation fuel primarily lies in its clean emissions. Unlike conventional fuels, burning hydrogen only releases water vapor, making it an attractive alternative to meet net-zero emission targets. Furthermore, the UK aviation industry, contributing over £22bn directly to the GDP, plays a pivotal role in the nation’s economy. A transition to hydrogen secures the aviation industry’s future, safeguarding the 230,000 jobs it provides.

Public Perception and Support for Hydrogen-Powered Flights

Recent research by HIA founding member easyJet reveals:

  • 81% of the British public believe hydrogen to be the best solution for decarbonizing aviation.
  • 91% support the UK government’s investment in hydrogen production and its use in aviation.
  • 89% feel that sectors challenging to decarbonize, like aviation, should prioritize hydrogen.

The UK populace understands the importance of aviation for the economy, with 92% recognizing the job opportunities that investments in zero-carbon sectors can create. A promising 87% are excited about a sustainable energy economy’s economic potential.

Key Points

  1. The Jet Zero council projects the UK’s potential share in the global aerospace industry at 19% by 2050, translating to around £34bn annually for the UK.
  2. Research references are from Hydrogen UK.
  3. More about the UK government’s vision for a hydrogen economy.
  4. 3gem conducted consumer research among 2,000 UK households in August 2023.

About the Hydrogen Alliance Members

Airbus

Airbus is at the forefront of sustainable aerospace, aiming for a safer and united world. They focus on innovation to provide efficient and advanced aerospace, defense, and connected services solutions. Airbus offers modern and fuel-efficient commercial aircraft, holds a leadership position in defense and security in Europe, is a major player in space businesses, and offers efficient rotorcraft solutions globally.

Bristol Airport

Bristol Airport is the third largest in England outside London, connecting the region to over 120 destinations. The airport significantly focuses on sustainability, targeting net zero carbon operations by 2030. It achieved a carbon-neutral status in 2021, surpassing its four-year target.

easyJet

easyJet is a leading European airline known for its extensive route network, value fares, and customer-friendly service. In 2022, they served over 69 million passengers. They have a commitment to sustainability, aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and have already made significant strides in carbon reduction. easyJet has a strong focus on innovation, always looking to make travel easier and more affordable for its customers.

GKN Aerospace

GKN Aerospace is an original innovator in the aerospace sector, known for its engineering excellence and technological advancements. They operate globally with 15,000 employees in 38 manufacturing locations across 12 countries. GKN Aerospace collaborates closely with educational and knowledge institutions, focusing on new technologies to enhance aircraft efficiency and promote the potential of additive manufacturing.

Rolls-Royce Holdings plc

Rolls-Royce provides complex power and propulsion solutions essential for safety in air, sea, and land applications. They have a global presence with customers in over 150 countries, encompassing airlines, armed forces, and power sectors. Their underlying revenue in 2022 was £12.69 billion in 2022. Rolls-Royce is committed to net zero carbon emissions.

Ørsted

Ørsted envisions a world powered by green energy. They specialize in developing, constructing, and operating offshore and onshore wind farms, solar farms, energy storage, renewable hydrogen, green fuel facilities, and bioenergy plants. Recognized as a leader in climate action, they employed around 8,700 people and had a revenue of DKK 132.3 billion (EUR 17.8 billion) in 2022. Their headquarters are in Denmark.

A Crucial Advance for Sustainable Flight

The HIA alliance’s formation is crucial as the world pivots to more sustainable fuel sources. With industry leaders, supportive government policies, and a public firmly believing in hydrogen’s potential, the UK has become a frontrunner in hydrogen-powered aviation.

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