A group of leading companies in the UK aviation and renewable energy sectors including EasyJet, Rolls-Royce, and Airbus has established the Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA) alliance to accelerate the delivery of zero-carbon aviation, the companies said Tuesday. HIA, whose partners also include Ørsted, GKN Aerospace, and Bristol Airport, said decarbonization efforts involving hydrogen should assume more urgency at a time when sustainable aviation fuel and batteries have drawn so much of the sector’s attention.
Working with government, local authorities, and the aviation and hydrogen sectors, the group plans to draw on members’ expertise to propose “a clear and deliverable pathway” to achieving hydrogen-powered aviation. Efforts center on clearing a pathway for preparing the needed infrastructure as well as policy, regulatory, and safety frameworks.
The alliance has established three key pillars for its plan, including supporting the delivery of infrastructure needed to make the UK a global leader in the effort; ensuring the readiness of the aviation regulatory regime for hydrogen; and transforming the funding for hydrogen aviation research and development support into a 10-year program.
Experts suggest that hydrogen-powered aviation will not only prove critical to delivering net zero goals, but it will also provide a significant boost to the UK economy.
Under the Department for Transportation's “Jet Zero” strategy, rapid investment in hydrogen aviation could see the UK secure 60,000 new jobs, and recent projections from trade group Hydrogen UK show that hydrogen could contribute £18 billion of gross value added to the UK economy and help meet up to 50 percent of its energy demand by 2050.
“There is no doubt that the UK has the potential to become a world leader in hydrogen aviation, which could bring with it a £34 billion per annum boost to the country’s economy by 2050, but in order to capture this opportunity, rapid change is needed and the time to act is now,” said Johan Lundgren, CEO of EasyJet and HIA’s first chairman.
“We must work together to deliver the radical solutions required for a hard-to-abate industry like aviation so we can protect and maximize the benefits that it brings to the UK economy and society and that we know British consumers want to be preserved.”
Under its Zero-E program, Airbus aims to bring to market the first hydrogen-powered narrowbody commercial airplane by 2035. Separately, a partnership between Rolls-Royce and EasyJet signed last year saw the companies test hydrogen fuel in gaseous form in an adapted AE2100-A turbine, the engine that powers the Saab 2000 regional airliner. The November 2022 test, which used hydrogen produced in the Orkney Islands by the European Marine Energy Centre using renewable energy, marked the first run of a modern engine using hydrogen.
“Collaboration is key when it comes to achieving our net zero ambitions as an industry, which is why we are proud to be part of the Hydrogen in Aviation Alliance,” commented Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini. “Our contribution to HIA is the capability and experience we have in pioneering new technologies and solutions; we have already tested a modern aero engine on green hydrogen and we strongly believe it is one of the solutions that will help decarbonize aviation in the mid- to long-term.”