LONDON – Plans to reduce aviation’s significant environmental impact moved forward this week after Rolls Royce as well as EasyJet said they had conducted ground tests of a jet engine using hydrogen produced by tidal and wind energy.
In a statement this week, aerospace giant Rolls-Royce – not to be confused with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is owned by bmw – called this news a “landmark” and said that this is “the world’s first launch of a modern aircraft engine powered by hydrogen.”
The test, which was conducted on an open site in the UK, used a converted regional aircraft engine from London-registered Rolls-Royce.
The hydrogen came from facilities at the European Marine Energy Center in Orkney, an archipelago in the waters north of the Scottish mainland. Since its founding in 2003, EMEC has become a major center for the development of wave and tidal energy.
Grant Shapps, UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said the trial was “an exciting demonstration of how business innovation can change the way we live.”
“This is a true British success story: the hydrogen used to power a jet engine is now produced using tidal and wind power in the Orkney Islands in Scotland,” Shapps added.
Use of hydrogen
Described by the International Energy Agency as a “universal energy carrier”, hydrogen has a wide range of applications and can be used in a wide variety of industries.
It can be made in several ways. One method involves electrolysis, in which water is split by an electric current into oxygen and hydrogen.
If the electricity used in this process comes from renewable sources such as wind or tidal power, then some refer to it as “green” or “renewable” hydrogen. Today, most hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels.
The use of hydrogen to power an internal combustion engine is different from hydrogen fuel cell technology. where hydrogen from a reservoir mixes with oxygen to generate electricity.
How The US Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center notes: “Fuel cell electric vehicles emit only water vapor and warm air without producing exhaust emissions.”
In contrast, hydrogen ICEs can produce other emissions. “Hydrogen engines emit almost zero trace amounts of CO2… but can produce oxides of nitrogen or NOx.” Cumminsengine manufacturer, He speaks.
Aviation’s environmental impact is significant, with the WWF describing it as “one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions causing global climate change”.
The WWF also states that air travel is “currently the most carbon-intensive activity a person can undertake.”
Earlier this year, Guillaume Faury, CEO Airbustold CNBC that aviation “will potentially face significant headwinds if we don’t manage to decarbonize at the right pace.”
Faury added that hydrogen aircraft represent the “best solution” in the medium to long term.
While there is excitement in some quarters about hydrogen aircraft and their potential, a significant amount of work needs to be done to commercialize the technology and deploy it on a large scale.
Speaking to CNBC last year, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary was cautious when it came to the prospects for new and emerging technologies in the sector.
“I think… we should be honest again,” he said. “Of course, in the next decade… I don’t think you will see them – there are no technologies that will replace… carbon, jet aircraft.”
“I don’t see … hydrogen fuel, I don’t see sustainable fuel, I don’t see electric propulsion, certainly not before 2030,” O’Leary added.