Rolls-Royce has established an R&D partnership with low-cost airline easyJet to develop hydrogen-combustion engine technology for aircraft, including the narrow-body commercial aircraft. The H2ZERO alliance commits the engine-builder and the carrier to start a series of ground tests for the new engines this year, working toward test flights.
The stated objective of the partnership is to demonstrate that hydrogen has potential to power a range of aircraft starting in the mid-2030s.
“H2ZERO is a big step forward for Rolls-Royce and we are excited to be working with a partner that shares a desire to innovate and find new answers to aviation’s biggest challenges. We at Rolls-Royce want to be ready to pioneer sustainability with whatever the future requires, be it hydrogen, electric power, sustainable aviation fuel, or gas turbine efficiency,” according to Grazia Vittadini, chief technology and strategy officer.
All jet engine and airframe manufacturers are developing alternative-fuel concepts to address net-zero carbon emission targets, and some researchers’ efforts center on hydrogen fuel cells to power electric aircraft. But, using hydrogen as a combustion source is a novel approach for the H2ZERO partners.
“In order to achieve net zero by 2050, we have always said that radical action is needed to address aviation’s climate impact,” Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, said: “The technology that emerges from this program has the potential to power easyJet-size aircraft, which is why we will also be making a multi-million pound investment into this program. In order to achieve decarbonization at scale, progress on the development of zero emission technology for narrow-body aircraft is crucial.”
Rolls noted it will draw on initial hydrogen-combustion and -fuel system rig tests that it is conducting with two British universities, Cranfield and Loughborough.
An early concept ground test of a Rolls-Royce AE 2100 engine fueled by hydrogen will be carried out in the U.K. later this year.
A full-scale ground test of a Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 jet engine will follow, possibly at a Rolls-Royce test stand in Mississippi.