FlyZero makes case for generation of liquid hydrogen aircraft

Hydrogen

FlyZero has unveiled a vision for a new generation of aircraft powered by liquid hydrogen.

On 17 March, it published a report – following a 12-month study into the feasibility of zero-carbon emission aircraft – in which it set out how aviation can achieve net zero by 2050 through developing sustainable aviation fuel and green liquid hydrogen technologies. Furthermore, there is a major potential economic boost for the UK should it seize the initiative, allowing it to grow its market share in civil aerospace to 19% from 12%, increase the sector’s GVA to the economy to £36bn from £11bn today, and expand the number of aerospace jobs from 116,000 to 154,000.

The study saw the likes of batteries, hydrogen and ammonia compared, with green liquid hydrogen deemed the most viable, capable of powering large aircraft through fuel cell, gas turbine and hybrid systems. Liquid hydrogen is also set to become cheaper, as well as greener, than power to liquid (PtL) sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by the mid-2030s. Should 50% of the commercial fleet be hydrogen-powered by 2050, cumulative CO2 emissions from aviation around the world could be reduced by 4 gigatons (Gt) and 14Gt by 2060. This would also require hitting targets of having midsize hydrogen-powered aircraft operating by 2035 and hydrogen-powered narrowbody aircraft in service by 2037.

Considering industry and aviation can only afford one fleet refresh before 2050, technology acceleration is crucial. There is a window of opportunity to introduce zero-carbon emission aircraft, with FlyZero’s modelling deeming it to be feasible to design and fly an experimental aircraft across the Atlantic by 2030, powered by hydrogen as turbines. Accelerating large commercial aircraft was highlighted as the optimum route to decarbonising aircraft, owed to it being less commercially risky as it allows for infrastructure development to focus on fewer, albeit larger international hub airports.

In terms of the technological breakthroughs required, it identified hydrogen fuel systems and storage, hydrogen gas turbines, hydrogen fuel cells, electrical propulsion systems, aerodynamic structures, and thermal management as the key areas. The UK does have expertise and capability in these today, but little in liquid hydrogen fuels. New aircraft certification policies as well as new health and safety regulations will also be needed for hydrogen-powered aviation.

It went on to make a series of recommendations, including calling on industry and government to work internationally to bring large zero-carbon emission aircraft to market as soon as possible; for critical technologies to be progressed to technology readiness level 5-6 by 2025; and the creation of a cross-sector hydrogen technology centre with open access facilities to facilitate research into fundamental hydrogen behaviour, requirements for safe handling standards and regulations, material properties and test specifications to address the UK’s limited hydrogen-related skills and testing capabilities.

It also recommended that the UK Civil Aviation Authority establishes strong links with EASA and the FAA to create a future sustainability committee, focused on the introduction of commercial aircraft using SAF and hydrogen based fuels; academic research into the climate impacts of hydrogen-powered aircraft is prioritised; that consideration is given to using incentives, pricing and taxation to influence passenger behaviour and shift demand to sustainable forms of aviation; and for the UK government and Hydrogen UK to use FlyZero’s recommendation on ensuring aviation is recognised as an important use case for hydrogen in future energy strategies.