A significant milestone was achieved in the aviation sector on November 28, when Rolls Royce, in collaboration with the airline easyJet, successfully tested the world’s first fully hydrogen-powered jet.
The UN project Race to Zero, which many businesses have endorsed in an effort to achieve zero emissions from operations by the middle of this century, served as the inspiration for the collaboration of Rolls-Royce and easyJet.
The field test, which was carried out on an early prototype utilizing green hydrogen produced by wind and tidal power, was a significant step toward demonstrating that hydrogen may be a zero-carbon jet fuel in the future. This serves as a crucial piece of evidence for the 2050 decarbonization plans that both businesses have laid forth.
As the world strives to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to avert the disastrous effects of global warming and keep the average temperature of 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, the aviation industry faces one of the toughest challenges of any sector to decarbonize.
Green technologies are now available for most modes of transportation. However, present battery technology cannot be used for any but the shortest flights due to the energy density required for aircraft. Solar and wind energy-powered batteries can power small aircraft, but a slow-burning, quick-refuelling liquid fuel is required for large, long-haul flights.
Aircraft and airline companies are thus attempting to create aircraft that can run on cleaner fuels like hydrogen, which, when burnt, creates water vapour rather than carbon dioxide. It’s not a simple chore, though.
Let us examine how these two companies developed the world’s first fully hydrogen power jet.
Making The Aircraft Of The Future: World’s First Fully Hydrogen-Powered Jet
For conducting the field test, Rolls-Royce and easyJet used a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine.
The fuel for the trial was provided by the European Marine Energy Centre and was produced at a hydrogen production and tidal testing facility on Eday in the UK’s Orkney Islands. It is referred to as green hydrogen because it was produced using tidal and wind energy.
The group used a method called steam-methane reforming (SMR), which involves heating natural gas with steam to generate a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen with a minor quantity of co2 emitted. This chemical process, which is entirely run-on renewable energy (wind and tidal power), has enormous potential for advancing zero-carbon aircraft technology.
The majority of environmentally friendly or renewable aviation fuels are currently produced using vegetable oil and other biofuels. However, it is believed that hydrogen is the only method to completely decarbonize the aviation sector, which is responsible for around 3.6 % of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
With an extended goal of conducting flight testing by the end of the decade, both firms have set out to demonstrate that hydrogen can produce power for civil aircraft engines in a safe and effective manner. They have already begun preparing a second round of tests.
However, as was previously mentioned, cleaning up the aviation industry is difficult. The aviation industry is still facing many challenges as it attempts to completely switch to cleaner, more environmentally friendly practices, despite the fact that the world’s first fully hydrogen-powered jet is underway. Let us consider the challenges of a seamless transition.
Greening Up Might Be More Difficult Than We Think
1. The Hydrogen Itself
The aviation industry is experimenting with hydrogen as a potential fuel for some flights since it only burns to make water.
The problematic aspect is that hydrogen is only as pure as the form of energy that creates it. If gas is utilized to make hydrogen, the process emits carbon dioxide, which warms the globe. There are three different types of hydrogen. While green hydrogen is produced utilizing renewable energy, a vast majority of today’s hydrogen is still manufactured with gas.
The International Air Transport Association claims that introducing and approving new aircraft models will be a significant barrier to hydrogen-fueled flying. Aircraft must be modified to have bigger fuel tanks if they are to operate on hydrogen. According to a report, a Boeing 747 jumbo aircraft would require more than 1 million litres of hydrogen to go around the same distance as 250,000 litres of jet fuel.
Such large fuel tanks, which also need to be maintained at high pressure, would definitely need a total redesign of the aircraft.
In order to assist them in meeting their climate targets, Rolls-Royce and easyJet have announced corporate commitments to lower their emissions. However, green hydrogen is still hard to come by and excessively costly at the moment.
It raises the question of what the aviation industry’s long-term prospects will be.
What Lies Ahead for the Aviation Industry?
Given these restrictions, it appears that short flights will initially be where green hydrogen will be most helpful. According to a 2020 European Union report, passenger aircraft fuelled by hydrogen for flights up to 3,000 kilometres might be available by 2035. Luckily, easyJet specializes on short-haul travel
However, Rolls-Royce’s clients -Airbus and Boeing, are starting to explore the development of hydrogen technology. They are expecting that so-called sustainable aviation fuel would decarbonize the business more quickly.
And even though the most recent ground test may have been a preliminary achievement, more work is required before a hydrogen-fueled flight takes off.
According to a news statement from Rolls-Royce, the companies will do further ground testing before moving on to “a longer-term ambition” of conducting flying tests. The alliance intends to advance its rig experiments after this preliminary concept ground test, leading to a full-scale ground test of a Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 jet engine.
The creation of the world’s first fully hydrogen-powered jet by Rolls Royce and easyJet is a big step toward the aviation sector having a greener, more sustainable future. Governments across the world, including the UK, the US, and Australia, are also making significant investments in green hydrogen since, currently, it is the sole viable substitute for diesel or kerosene in applications, including passenger planes, freight trains, and long-haul trucks.