The aviation industry is on the brink of a green revolution. Leading this charge are iconic power and propulsion experts, Rolls-Royce, and Europe’s low-cost airline, easyJet. In collaboration with Loughborough University and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), these industry giants have achieved a world first in hydrogen aviation technology, marking a significant stride towards net zero aviation.
Hydrogen: The Fuel of the Future
At the heart of this groundbreaking achievement lies the successful test of a Pearl 700 engine combustor powered by 100% hydrogen. Conducted at DLR in Cologne, this test signifies the viability of hydrogen as a sustainable aviation fuel. Advanced fuel spray nozzles, a pinnacle of engineering innovation, have controlled combustion. This breakthrough comes on the heels of another significant achievement last year when easyJet and Rolls-Royce ran an AE2100 engine on green hydrogen.
Navigating the Challenges
Harnessing hydrogen’s potential has not been without its challenges. The fuel burns hotter and more rapidly than kerosene, necessitating innovative engineering solutions to control combustion. The advanced nozzles, tested at Loughborough and DLR Cologne, have proven adept at managing hydrogen’s reactivity. They mix hydrogen progressively with air to control the flame position.
Partnerships Enable Progress on Hydrogen-Powered Flight
This milestone underscores the power of collaboration as airlines, manufacturers, and top research facilities come together to enable a hydrogen-powered future.
Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Rolls-Royce, said: “This is an incredible achievement in a short space of time. Controlling the combustion process is one of the key technology challenges the industry faces in making hydrogen a real aviation fuel of the future. We have achieved that, and it makes us eager to keep moving forward. I want to thank easyJet, Loughborough University and DLR for their dedication and support to reach this milestone.”
Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, said: “We believe hydrogen is the future of short-haul aviation and the success of this test and progress being made demonstrates that this is becoming ever closer. We remain optimistic that it will play a critical role in helping us achieve the ambitious goals we set out in our net zero roadmap.”
Professor Dan Parsons, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Loughborough University, said: “In conjunction with its partners, the National Centre for Combustion and Aerothermal Technology (NCCAT) at Loughborough is delighted to have supported the landmark testing and development of advanced aerospace fuel spray nozzles utilising hydrogen fuel. This is a major advance towards net zero aviation.”
Markus Fischer, Divisional Board Member Aeronautics of DLR, said: “This is an outstanding success story and we are more than happy to have contributed our hydrogen testing capabilities. It was very exciting supporting this technology journey and seeing the burner technology mature in various rigs at our Institute of Propulsion Technology. This underlines again DLR’s capabilities in complex applied research and the achievement, at such a high pace, was supported by our experience in real-scale testing of ground-based gas turbines.”
easyJet’s Green Vision
With a robust net zero roadmap, easyJet is no stranger to environmental stewardship. The airline’s commitment to innovation and sustainability is evident. Efforts include its partnership with UNICEF and adherence to the UN-backed Race to Zero. The airline has a comprehensive strategy to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The focus is on new technology, fleet renewal, operational efficiencies, and airspace modernization.
Rolls-Royce’s Commitment to Innovation
Rolls-Royce’s legacy of delivering complex power and propulsion solutions is evolving to meet the demands of a green future. With customers in over 150 countries, the company is devoted to developing products compatible with net zero carbon emissions. They aim to fulfill the rising global demand for more sustainable power solutions.
The Path Ahead for Hydrogen-Powered Flight
As hydrogen-powered flight advances, the efforts of Rolls-Royce, easyJet, Loughborough University, and DLR are set to empower a greener future. The technologies honed at Loughborough and DLR are being integrated into upcoming tests. Rolls-Royce and easyJet are setting their sights on a full gas hydrogen ground test on a Pearl engine.
As the world clamors for sustainable aviation solutions, this milestone isn’t just a victory for the collaborators. It heralds a new dawn for the aviation industry, bringing the dream of zero-emission flights closer to reality.