A tiny aircraft jet engine is undergoing testing in a windy area of a military installation on Salisbury Plain. These experiments might one day result in significant improvements for the aviation sector.
The engine is essentially entirely conventional. It is a Rolls-Royce AE-2100A gas turbine, which is a kind that is frequently seen on smaller aircraft all around the world.
The gasoline being used is completely peculiar about it. This is the first time that hydrogen has ever been used in a contemporary airplane engine.
It is attached securely to a solid test rig without a body and has its sophisticated wiring and pipes exposed. Engineers are gathered around a number of screens in the control room, safely away.
Rolls-Royce is conducting the tests following development work in Derby and in collaboration with the airline easyJet.
The immediate goal is to demonstrate that a jet engine can be operated and controlled using hydrogen fuel rather than traditional aviation fuels.
In the long run, it is intended for hydrogen power to play a significant role in enabling the aviation sector to continue expanding while drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Alan Newby, director of aerospace technology at Rolls-Royce, “the push for Net Zero is basically the reason we’re looking at hydrogen.”
“Normally, kerosene would be used to power this device. Since kerosene is a hydrocarbon, burning it releases carbon dioxide.
“The beauty of looking at a fuel like hydrogen is that it contains no carbon and, as a result, when it burns, it creates no CO2,” says the author.
EasyJet is funding the initiative and has provided several million pounds for the early testing.
The business thinks that the best way to lessen emissions from short-haul flight is to use hydrogen power.
According to David Morgan, chief operating officer of easyJet, “We started looking at what may power the aircraft of the future a few years ago.”
“When we examined battery technology, it became abundantly evident that it would likely fall short for the huge commercial aircraft that we fly.
“We’ve determined that hydrogen is a really intriguing option for us,” the statement continued.
Since hydrogen produces far more power per kilogram than batteries do, it has an advantage over the latter. Simply said, heavier planes cannot be powered by batteries.
Aviation using hydrogen, however, is still very far off. The results of the experiments performed thus far simply demonstrate that a jet engine powered by hydrogen may be started and run at a modest speed.
However, it will require a lot more study and a substantial expenditure to go on to developing a whole new engine that can safely power a passenger aircraft.
A redesign of the aircraft is also necessary. Even in liquid form, hydrogen occupies nearly four times the volume of kerosene when used to fly the same distance.
It needs to be cooled to -253C before it can become a liquid. Then, it needs to be transformed back into a gas before being burnt.
From an aviation perspective, there has been a significant change, according to Rolls-Alan Royce’s Newby.
“They will need to have a tank to store the hydrogen. You must maintain it at this extremely low temperature.
“How do you send it through to the engine?” is another matter.
The source of the hydrogen itself is the other crucial concern, as it will significantly affect the environmental advantages it may offer.
The so-called green hydrogen utilized in the experiments was created at the Orkney Islands’ European Marine Energy Centre.
It is created by splitting water into its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen, using an electric current. Tidal and wind energy are used to generate the necessary amount of electricity. As a result, it is a highly clean fuel.
However, the majority of the hydrogen generated for industrial usage today comes from a procedure that involves combining high pressure, high temperature steam with natural gas.
However, a sizable amount of carbon dioxide is produced as a result, which is subsequently released into the atmosphere. It also needs a lot of energy, which is frequently produced by burning fossil fuels.
Blue hydrogen is one possible replacement. While still being created in the same manner, this captures the carbon dioxide and either stores it or uses it again.
Theoretically, this ought to result in a cleaner, low-carbon gasoline. But in an article published this year, scientists from Cornell and Stanford universities disputed that viewpoint.
They argued that utilizing blue hydrogen would still endanger the environment more than burning fossil fuels.
The campaigning organization Transport and Environment’s UK policy director, Matt Finch, claims that there is now a lot of hydrogen hype.
“Many individuals are arguing that hydrogen is both useful and necessary. You hear it for automobiles, trucks, ships, and aircraft as well as for home heating and chemicals.
“The UK essentially produces no green hydrogen at the present. It is utterly impossible to satisfy everyone’s needs.”
According to Mr. Finch, this indicates that green hydrogen supplies would likely need to be rationed for decades to come and that governments might not place a high premium on aviation.
All of this indicates that it will probably be several years before zero-emission hydrogen planes are a common sight.
Even then, they will probably first only be available in short-distance markets. Synthetic sustainable fuels are anticipated to provide a more viable answer on long-haul routes.
Nevertheless, these initial trials on Salisbury Plain could be viewed in the future as the hesitant first steps of an industry-wide technological revolution.