A hydrogen propulsion system is tested by Rolls-Royce and Easyjet

A hydrogen propulsion system is tested by Rolls-Royce and Easyjet
Courtesy of Rolls-Royce

They hope to eventually use hydrogen propulsion systems to power narrowbody aircraft as a result of ground tests with an early concept demonstrator from Rolls-Royce and EasyJet. By 2050, the partners aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions by using hydrogen generated from wind, tidal power, and a modified Rolls-Royce AE 2100 A engine.

As part of a series of ground tests conducted at Boscombe Down's defense research facility in November, a concept demonstrator was tested. Bombardier's Global 5500 and 6500 business jets will be powered by the Pearl 15 turbofan engine developed by Rolls-Royce. Eventually, Easyjet plans to use the technology on its A320 family planes across Europe, and it intends to scale the technology up as well.

For the development of hydrogen propulsion for commercial flights, Rolls-Royce launched the H2Zero program. In parallel with H2JET, EasyJet is also developing hydrogen fuel cells through a project called H2GEAR and direct hydrogen combustion technology through a partnership with GKN Aerospace.

The AE 2100 engine powers the 50-seat Saab 2000 regional airliner, as well as various military aircraft such as the Lockheed P-3 Orion surveillance platform and the C-130 troop carriers. It would be necessary to use more powerful engines like the CFM International Leap family for larger commercial aircraft, such as the 150-seat A320.

The Zero E program at Airbus aims to produce hydrogen-powered aircraft by the mid-2030s, a target that will be achieved by Rolls-Royce and EasyJet.

Eday in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland provided the green hydrogen used for the first test with the concept demonstrator. Besides producing hydrogen at that location, the organization tests the use of tidal power and participates in early efforts to establish an air-transport hydrogen supply infrastructure.

An electrolyzer produces green hydrogen through electrolysis by using green electricity from wind and tidal power. To maximize fuel capacity in an aircraft, hydrogen is compressed from 20 to 200 bar pressure and then combusted instead of Jet-A fuel by the engine.

A full-scale powertrain is currently being prepared for a second set of ground tests by Easyjet and Rolls-Royce. They plan to conduct flight tests with an aircraft that has yet to be determined using hydrogen power plants at some point in the future.

Hybrid electric propulsion is a separate project at Rolls-Royce. Also, VTOL aircraft developer Vertical Aerospace is developing an all-electric powertrain.

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