British engineers are set to begin trialling a green commercial passenger jet in a global first.
It comes as the aviation industry, which produces around 2 per cent of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, seeks solutions to decarbonise airlines. The Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November will also be pivotal for improving the sustainability of aviation.
Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) is hoping to make zero-emissions flights commercially available by 2025.
The company has purchased and taken delivery of a Britten-Norman Islander light aircraft from the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, and will retrofit it with hydrogen fuel cell technology.
“We are excited to begin testing our hydrogen fuel cell power-train technology on a widely used commercial aircraft,” said Paul Hutton, chief executive of CAeS.
“It is critical that the aviation industry delivers real zero-emissions aircraft solutions to reduce its impact on the environment.
“We are now rapidly progressing to delivering the first certified emissions-free passenger carrying aircraft services anywhere in the world.”
CAeS is leading the Project Fresson consortium. It is named after Scottish Highlands aviation pioneer Captain Ernest Edmund “Ted” Fresson, who established Highland Airways and introduced the first passenger air services between Inverness, Wick and Kirkwall in the 1930s.
How it works
The project will see conventional engines removed and replaced with an electric motor and a hydrogen fuel cell.
“We are also installing hydrogen tanks for the gaseous hydrogen that feeds the fuel cells,” Jenny Kavanagh, chief strategy officer at CAeS, told The National.
She explained the process:
· The fuel cells take the hydrogen and split the molecules into negatively and positively charged ions.
· The negatively charged molecules are forced through a circuit, thereby creating the electricity to drive the electric motor
· The positively charged molecules travel through the fuel cell body and recombine with the negative ions and oxygen from the air to create water, which is exhausted into the atmosphere.
She said the consortium is still seeking investment opportunities to help further the project.
The arrival of the Islander in CAeS’s hangar marks a critical step towards the world’s first regulatory-certified, zero-emissions, commercial passenger carrying aircraft.
It means the company can commence test flights on the existing engines to record their full performance before it starts installing and testing the revolutionary hydrogen systems.
CAeS aims for the first test flight to take place in 2023, and for the zero emissions product to be in the market by 2025.
The project, which has been supported by the UK government with a £10.3 million ($14m) grant, is the first phase of the hydrogen project, with CAeS aiming to produce a commercially-viable hydrogen 19-seat aircraft, followed by a 75-seat model.
Stuart Reid, chief executive of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, which sold the craft to the engineers, praised the initiative.
“We are pleased to have completed the sale of G-BUBP, one of our four BN Islander aircraft, to Cranfield Aerospace Solutions,” he said.
“The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company are committed to working towards a zero-emission aviation industry and being an early adopter of this cutting-edge technology.
“We are excited about Cranfield Aerospace’s Project Fresson and we look forward to the development of their new hydrogen fuel cell aircraft.”
CAeS, which is based at Cranfield Airport in Bedford, has access to some of the UK’s most advanced aviation research facilities and has a client base including Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps visited the project earlier this year.