Rolls-Royce to Run Aviation Engine Tests with Hydrogen in New Research Project

Rolls-Royce announced a new innovative hydrogen program to prove that Sustainable Aviation Fuel(SAF) is compatible with aircraft. The company also gave an update on its research into hybrid-electric power.

Rolls-Royce’s aviation industry seeks to improve sustainability in different ways per time. This innovation keeps the company at a top spot in the quest for net-zero aviation. They will begin with a comprehensive series of tests on rigs and engines to prove that SAF can deliver power to small to mid-sized aircraft.

They will also run flight tests during the program. These tests would check the potential of aircraft running on SAF from the mid-2030s onward. Although the trials will not involve flying an aircraft, they will demonstrate the challenges that accompany the use of hydrogen as fuel, building on the previous hydrogen combustion tests ongoing at Loughborough University and the German research institute DLR. Two ground trials will occur this year.

Previous research only showed the need to modify the fuel injector compared to a total redevelopment of the entire combustion chamber. 

The first trial will occur in the US on the company’s AE 2100 turboprop engine that powers civil and military aircraft. The second trial will happen later on one of its business jet engines, Pearl 15. While Rolls-Royce will look for test facilities, its facility in Mississippi, USA, will oversee the first trial.

Firstly, the test would demonstrate how the hydrogen system functions outside the traditional fuel. Afterward, a study would see the engine using pure hydrogen, showing the traits of a hydrogen-powered gas turbine. 

These tests result from the market research carried out by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute’s Fly Zero team and Project NAPKIN (New Aviation Propulsion Knowledge and Innovation Network). Their study showed that there is a market potential for hydrogen-powered aircraft. 

An Aviation consultancy has predicted a 36% increase in carbon emissions compared with 2021 levels. This rebound is due to increasing air travel following the COVID restrictions lift. 

Aviation companies are considering SAF as it reduces up to 80% of carbon emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels. SAF, produced from sustainable substances similar to the chemistry of fossil jet fuel, will help reduce aviation carbon emissions.

The President of Civil Aerospace at Rolls-Royce, Chris Cholerton, said concerning the project, ‘We are pioneers of power, and this program puts us in a great position to pave the way to make hydrogen and hybrid-electric systems a reality. Combined with our work on Sustainable Aviation Fuel and further gas turbine efficiency, we are making real progress on the hard yards of research and development towards making Net Zero flight a reality.’

While Rolls-Royce funds the project internally, it is seeking support from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute and the EU’s Clean Aviation program.

Other Sustainable Projects 

Rolls-Royce will continue to test the potential of hybrid electric power on its Power Generation System 1 demonstrator. They are also working on an UltraFan, which will offer a 25% fuel efficiency improvement. UltraFan allows the use of different energy options, including current jet fuel, hydrogen, and hybrid electric power generation.

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