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Hydrogen fleet

Analysing the potential for transition to hydrogen powered aircraft

Exploring the feasibility of bringing hydrogen-powered planes into operation in a one-of-a-kind research project aiming to realise zero-carbon emission commercial aviation by 2030.

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Aerospace Technology Institute’s (ATI) FlyZero project

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Multiple organisations involved in the FlyZero project, which incorporated100 different streams of work

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Consultancy, digital, complex programme delivery

Key benefits

Provided a better understanding

of the commercial drivers which will influence the uptake of hydrogen by airports and airlines

Complex feasibility study

completed within the agreed timescales and budget

The study found

that with suitable development, liquid hydrogen refuelling would result in feasible turnaround times, and identified a pathway to achieving that transition

Solution - Identifying the challenges and opportunities

An intensive 12-month strategic research programme brought together experts from across the UK to conduct a detailed and holistic study into potential zero-carbon emission aircraft concepts. Led by the ATI and backed by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, it addressed the design challenges, manufacturing demands, operational requirements, and market opportunities.

Our scope assessed the practical and regulatory requirements for the safe and efficient ground operations needed to support hydrogen-powered aircraft, as well as the commercial implications of these needs and feasible future procedures. What’s more, the conditions required for storing hydrogen at airports and the potential impacts of refuelling aircraft with liquid hydrogen were reviewed – and this specifically addressed how to achieve a quick turnaround because, financially, aircraft need to be in the air, without spending a long time being refuelled.

A key challenge for the uptake of hydrogen is fuel safety distances around the aeroplane, which is set by aviation standards. The current safety distance for fuelling operations using Jet A-1(kerosene) is a 3-metre radius, but this is likely to increase with hydrogen fuel. As such, this reduces the scope for simultaneous activities whilst refuelling – such as unloading bags and disembarkation/embarking of passengers – which increases turnaround time. This issue can be aided by ‘plugging in’ automation, particularly in terms of processes where human intervention may not be practical, which we addressed in our study.

The potential transition to hydrogen also presents several technical challenges, some of which are significant, including large scale changes to infrastructure. However, these could be tackled using techniques that are well-understood for handling hydrogen in industrial processes. We drew upon our industry-leading hydrogen capability from hydrogen feasibility studies including the Hy-value project and our role in leading the South Wales Industrial Cluster to provide strategic advice in this area, as well as our advisory roles within the Hydrogen Advisory Council Working Group and the Decarbonised Gas Alliance.

Watch the FlyZero animation

Digital innovation

Our study explored the role of novel technologies – in particular remote and/or autonomous solutions – in facilitating the safe and efficient use of hydrogen, including by identifying opportunities to automate aspects of the turnaround process.

For example, bigger diameter steel pipes would be required to move hydrogen from storage to the aircraft, which would be unsafe for an operator to carry, meaning that automation could help in this process. Also, hydrogen fires are almost invisible to the naked eye, so some form of digital monitoring would be required. The video above gives a short presentation of what refuelling could be like in future, using these innovative technologies.

Key highlights:

  • The study found that with suitable development, liquid hydrogen refuelling would result in feasible turnaround times, and identified a pathway to achieving that transition. Future development of the proposals will require government support and investment models.
  • A final 138-page report was delivered which included a timeline for technology developments up to 2050. This set reasonable timescales in terms of testing the solution, and scaling it up, drawing upon similar examples from other industries.

FlyZero is investigating the advanced technologies needed to deliver zero-carbon emission air travel including hydrogen and electric and our holistic approach recognises the operation and commercial viability of these aircraft is an essential piece of the puzzle. Working with Costain will assist our detailed assessment of the next generation of commercial aircraft helping to ensure they deliver on sustainability as well as operational and commercial aspects.

Mark Howard, head of commercial strategy for FlyZero

Contact and social

Aviation and integrated transport

Andy Clarke, Integrated transport director
01628 842444
[email protected]