A group of companies in the UK aviation and renewable energy sectors have established the Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA) alliance to decarbonise flying.
The goal of the partnership is to ensure that the UK puts in place the infrastructure, policy, regulatory and safety frameworks needed to be ready for when the first hydrogen-powered aircraft takes to the skies.
“It would be unforgivable if actually the aircraft were available ready to fly and we could operate them, but actually, it got held back because some of these policies weren’t really in place,” easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said.
In particular, the alliance has chosen to focus on hydrogen as a source of clean fuel for airplanes.
The companies pointed out that 81 per cent of the British public believe hydrogen is the best option to decarbonise aviation, with 91 per cent supporting the UK government investing in hydrogen production and use in the aviation sector, according to recent research.
“While there are various options for decarbonising the aviation sector, including sustainable aviation fuels, synthetic fuels or batteries, HIA believes that more attention should be paid to the potential of the direct use of hydrogen,” the organisation wrote in a press release.
Currently, the UK aviation sector consumes 12.3 million tonnes of jet fuel a year and produces 8 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is considered a hard-to-abate sector because of a lack of technologically mature alternatives to jet-fuelled engines.
HIA aims to produce a report by the end of the year, setting out the milestones that need to be met over the next 10 years to make hydrogen-flying a reality.
Its focus will reportedly be on three main areas: supporting the delivery of the infrastructure needed for the UK to be a global leader; ensuring the aviation regulatory regime is hydrogen ready; and transforming the funding for hydrogen aviation R&D support into a 10-year programme.
Several of the companies that have joined HIA have already made large investments in hydrogen research, with a focus on its potential to power short-haul aviation.
Airbus is currently developing new hydrogen-powered aircraft with the aim of entering commercial service from 2035, while Rolls-Royce has already proven that hydrogen could power a jet engine following successful ground tests in 2022.
In 2020, ZeroAvia carried out a test flight from its R&D facility at Cranfield Airport to demonstrate a commercially available aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells. However, the aircraft had just six seats and the flight lasted for just 20 minutes.
Last year, the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, a GE Aerospace survey of 325 aviation decision-makers found that only 46 per cent said they believed the industry will meet its net zero goal by 2050, while 32 per cent said it will not, with 22 per cent unsure.