hydrogen midsize aircraft concept art

Hydrogen aircraft project sets sights on transatlantic flight

Image credit: FlyZero

The UK government has announced details of a winner of its “FlyZero” funding initiative to develop decarbonised aviation technologies. The winning project aims to develop a midsize zero-emissions aircraft capable of completing non-stop transatlantic flights.

The aircraft is being designed to carry 279 passengers at the same speed and comfort as today’s airliners. Its 54m wingspan carries two turbofan engines powered by hydrogen combustion. The liquid hydrogen fuel is stored in cryogenic fuel tanks at around -250°C in the aft fuselage and two small tanks along the forward fuselage. These smaller tanks also help keep the aircraft balanced as the fuel burns off, eliminating the need for additional aerodynamic structures.

The design has a range of 5250NM, meaning that it could fly from London to San Francisco, Delhi, Beijing, Vancouver, Mexico City, or Rio de Janeiro without stopping, or to Auckland, Sydney, or Honolulu with just one stop to refuel. This would allow a network of long-range journeys to be established without demanding new hydrogen refuelling infrastructure at so many international airports.

When hydrogen is consumed in a fuel cell, the only by-product is water, making it the focus of much R&D as a clean, energy- dense and versatile future fuel for energy, transport, heating, and other applications.

The project is funded through the £15m publicly funded FlyZero project, which is led by the Aerospace Technology Institute, based in Cranfield, Bedfordshire. Designs for the aircraft have been shared ahead of the fourth meeting of the Jet Zero Council on 7 December, which marks International Civil Aviation Day. The UK government aims to reach net-zero CO2 emissions for domestic flights by 2040.

“The Aerospace Technology Institute’s pioneering research highlights the potential for hydrogen in realising zero-carbon global connectivity,” said Jet Zero Council CEO Emma Gilthorpe. “This ground-breaking green technology looks set to play a critical role in decarbonising flight and through the work of the Jet Zero Council, the UK aviation sector is exploring all avenues to ensure we protect the benefits of flying for future generations while cutting the carbon cost.”

Chris Gear, FlyZero project director, said: “At a time of global focus on tackling climate change, our midsize concept sets out a truly revolutionary vision for the future of global air travel keeping families, businesses, and nations connected without the carbon footprint. This new dawn for aviation brings with it real opportunities for the UK aerospace sector to secure market share, highly skilled jobs and inward investment while helping to meet the UK’s commitment to fight climate change.”

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who will chair the Jet Zero Council, said: “This pioneering design for a liquid-hydrogen- powered aircraft, led by a British organisation, brings us one step closer to a future where people can continue to travel and connect but without the carbon footprint.”

The Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, added: “These designs could define the future of aerospace and aviation. By working with industry, we are showing that truly carbon-free flight could be possible with hydrogen a front-runner to replace conventional fossil fuels.”

“Fuelling planes sustainably will enable the public to travel as we do now, but in a way that doesn’t damage the planet. It will not only help us to end our contribution to climate change, but also represents a huge industrial opportunity for the UK.”

Separately, eight companies have got the green light to go ahead with their sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) developments from the government’s “Green Fuel, Green Skies” competition.

British Airways has announced that it will become the first airline to use SAF produced on a commercial scale in the UK, sourcing the fuel from Phillips 66’s Humber Refinery in Lincolnshire. The refinery uses waste fats, oils, and greases as feedstock for its SAF. British Airways has agreed to purchase enough SAF to reduce its lifecycle CO2 emissions by nearly 100,000 tonnes.

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