Rolls-Royce, in collaboration with easyJet, has achieved a groundbreaking milestone in their hydrogen research project. This achievement propels hydrogen as a potent contender for powering aircraft, revolutionizing the narrow-body aviation segment from the mid-2030s onward.
Rolls-Royce’s relentless pursuit of hydrogen combustion engine technology has taken a remarkable leap forward. Collaborating with Loughborough University in the UK and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), the aviation giant has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of hydrogen as an aviation fuel.
The pivotal test involved a full annular combustor of a Pearl 700 engine at DLR in Cologne, running entirely on 100% hydrogen. What makes this achievement truly groundbreaking is the ability to combust hydrogen under conditions that mimic maximum take-off thrust.
The key to this accomplishment lies in the ingenious design of advanced fuel spray nozzles, a triumph over the engineering challenges posed by hydrogen. Hydrogen burns significantly hotter and faster than kerosene, making combustion control a formidable task. The newly developed nozzles masterfully control the flame position by progressively mixing air with hydrogen, effectively managing the fuel’s reactivity. Rolls-Royce confirms that combustor operability and emissions align with expectations.
The journey towards hydrogen-powered aviation involved rigorous testing. The individual nozzles underwent initial testing at Loughborough University’s upgraded facilities and at DLR Cologne. The ultimate challenge came with the full-pressure combustor tests at DLR Cologne.
Last year, easyJet and Rolls-Royce etched their names in history by successfully running a modern aero engine, an AE2100, on green hydrogen at Boscombe Down, UK. These recent tests signify a comprehensive understanding of the combustion aspect of the hydrogen program.
Voices of Optimism and Ambition
Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer at Rolls-Royce, expressed her admiration for the achievement, highlighting that controlling the combustion process is a critical technological challenge for hydrogen’s aviation future. She commended easyJet, Loughborough University, and DLR for their unwavering dedication and support.
Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, echoed the optimism, firmly believing in hydrogen’s potential in short-haul aviation. The successful test and ongoing progress bring the aviation industry one step closer to realizing their ambitious net-zero goals.
Professor Dan Parsons, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Loughborough University, emphasized the university’s role in supporting advanced aerospace fuel spray nozzles using hydrogen fuel, a significant step towards net-zero aviation.
Markus Fischer, Divisional Board Member Aeronautics of DLR, shared his excitement in supporting this technological journey. He highlighted DLR’s capabilities in complex applied research and the rapid progress made in ground-based gas turbine testing.
From Ground Tests to Flight: The Road Ahead
The technologies proven at Loughborough and DLR will now integrate into the lessons learned from the Boscombe Down tests. Rolls-Royce and easyJet are gearing up for the next stage: a full gas hydrogen ground test on a Pearl engine. This will pave the way for a full ground test using liquid hydrogen, with the shared ambition of taking this groundbreaking technology to the skies.
Rolls-Royce’s hydrogen research is bolstered by support from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute HyEST program, Germany’s LUFO 6 WOTAN program, and the European Union’s Clean Aviation CAVENDISH program. Loughborough University and DLR are key partners in these initiatives, while easyJet’s investment drives the development of hydrogen combustion engine technology for narrow-body aircraft.
The journey to hydrogen-powered aviation is not merely a flight of fancy; it’s a transformative leap towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly aviation industry. Rolls-Royce and easyJet’s relentless pursuit of innovation is paving the way for a cleaner, greener future in the skies.