The firms have committed to collaborating on a series of engine test on the ground in 2022 with ambitions of taking the technology to the air, in the hope of demonstrating that hydrogen has the potential to power future aircraft from the mid-2030s.

It is hoped the project will offer a space for easyJet and Rolls-Royce to support a concept ground test of a Rolls-Royce AE 2100 engine in the UK, with a follow-up full-scale ground test of a Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 jet engine potentially at the Rolls-Royce test facility in Mississippi, US.

H2ZERO comes off the back of a research project that the companies began in 2021 to develop market analysis, drive specification, investigate infrastructure and regulatory requirements to support the use of hydrogen in aviation.

The programme of tests hope to build on initial hydrogen combustion and fuel system rig tests that Rolls-Royce is undertaking with both Cranfield and Loughborough universities, H2 View understands.

Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, said, “In order to achieve Net Zero by 2050, we have always said that radical action is needed to address aviation’s climate impact. That’s why we are so pleased to announce this partnership with Rolls-Royce.

“The technology that emerges from this programme has the potential to power easyJet-size aircraft, which is why we will also be making a multi-million pound investment into this programme. In order to achieve decarbonisation at scale, progress on the development of zero emission technology for narrow-body aircraft is crucial.”

In addition to the companies’ own research, H2ZERO comes in response to studies and research including the UK Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) FlyZero team, and Project NAPKIN (New Aviation Propulsion Knowledge and Innovation Network), which both concluded hydrogen-powered aircraft hold market potential.

Read more: Liquid hydrogen has more potential than battery or ammonia in aviation says ATI as it reveals new fleet of concept aircraft

Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Rolls-Royce, added, “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. This agreement further inspires us to move forward.”

The soaring twenties: The decade hydrogen aviation will take-off

Excitement has been building for some time across industries, governments and media about the potential for hydrogen to decarbonise where other technologies cannot. Hard-to-abate sectors, like aviation, are seen as particular sweet spots. But the accepted wisdom seems to have set the middle of next decade as the target date. That’s a long wait.

This is particularly frustrating because we can’t afford to wait 12 or 13 years to start making meaningful in-roads into aviation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly given the industry’s demand growth. It’s also a drastic underestimation as to how soon hydrogen will become a significant fuel in use for moving passengers and cargo in the skies.

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