The Major Players in Aerospace Hydrogen Solutions
Airbus is probably one of the biggest names involved in hydrogen tech development. Its ZEROe aircraft plans to be the first commercial hydrogen-fuelled aircraft; it’s currently slated to enter the market by 2035. Airbus is a member of the Hydrogen Council, a cross-industry think tank aimed at developing sustainable hydrogen technology.
Universal Hydrogen is another big player on the scene. Unlike Airbus, which is developing full aircraft, UH’s mission is to develop conversion kits for regional aircraft. The kit will replace turboprop engines with an electric powertrain and hydrogen fuel cells, along with fuel services at the relevant airports. Universal Hydrogen expects to be in passenger service by 2025.
Finally, GKN Aerospace has launched a collaborative project called H2GEAR. It’s partnering with Intelligent Energy, Newcastle University, the Universities of Manchester and Birmingham, and Aeristech. The project currently has £54 million worth of funding behind it, making it a pretty sizeable research collaboration.
Unsurprisingly, H2GEAR will develop a hydrogen propulsion system for aircraft. It consists of reach arms (at the universities) and development, at Intelligent Energy, GKN and Aeristech. The combined efforts currently plan to have a viable hydrogen powertrain in the market by 2026.
Collaborations Pushing Forward Development
Of course, research and development projects alone aren’t enough to get hydrogen fuel technology to market. An equally important part is collaborations and partnerships with companies across the aerospace sector.
GKN’s H2GEAR project announced a partnership with easyJet last year. As part of its involvement, easyJet plans to make aircraft available for flight demonstration while also providing economic and operational insights into its flight routes. As one of Europe’s largest airlines, its involvement could have a considerable impact on this project.
Another important recent partnership is the one between Honeywell and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It’s an academic rather than purely practical partnership, but this is obviously just as important. Its aim is to investigate novel methods for hydrogen storage, including fuel cell technologies. Honeywell is already involved in hydrogen fuel cells for UAVs, so this project will look at scaling up existing technology for larger aircraft.
The Importance of Collaboration and Innovation
Hydrogen fuel technology will hopefully bring about the sustainable revolution aerospace needs. Of course, a significant factor in making this happen will be the sharing of technology and research between players.
The reasons for this necessity should be obvious. While tech development will, to an extent, always be driven by commercial profit, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a global effort that should look beyond short-term financial goals. If we are to stay as close to the Paris Climate Agreement targets as possible, we need to decarbonise the aerospace industry as soon as we can.
Hopefully, the recently announced partnerships and academic collaborations are signs of greater things to come in the near future. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the major players work together throughout the rest of this decade and the impact this could have on hydrogen fuel technology.