Rolls Royce and EasyJet begin testing Hydrogen Fuel Powered Engines. Is this the future of aviation fuels?

Aug 04, 2022 | rbriceno

It is no surprise that the Hydrogen Fuel topic has risen to the ranks in the past 10 years as a promising future of aviation fueling. However, the limitations on cost, infrastructure, and transportation have kept this experiment at bay for as long as it has been discussed. Fortunately for us, Rolls Royce has announced a new partnership with Easy Jet which will enable them to develop and test hydrogen combustion engine technology for aircraft.

The project will begin to take place in the UK towards the end of this year and it will involve full-scale ground test of the technology using a Pearl 15 jet engine. Fully committed to groundbreaking developments in renewable energy, Easy Jet and Rolls Royce are making a multi-million-dollar investment to break ground on this engine testing. The objective is that in the next 10 years, Hydrogen Fueled engines can power an entire fleet of Easy Jet- sized aircraft.

Why does the type of fuel matter?

For as long as the aviation industry has been in place, the ever-increasing demand of sky transportation has relied fully on Fossil fuels. The environmental footprint of aviation is so significant that “the World Wildlife Fund describe[es] it as ‘one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.’ Greenhouse gasses come from the continuous burning of Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum) for energy use. The continued release of greenhouse gases has been linked to an increasing global warming effect, deforestation, endangering of natural animal species, among other alarming effects.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, they estimated that in 2020 “Fossil fuel combustion (burning) for energy accounted for 73% of total U.S. GHG emissions and for 92% of total U.S. anthropogenic CO2 emissions.”

Is Hydrogen Fuel the solution we are looking for?

Hydrogen Fueling rose to the ranks as the most probable solution with the least environmental impact due to the fact that a Hydrogen Fuel combustion produces a biproduct of water vapor and warm air. This is if the hydrogen fuel is used in cell technology, where gas from a tank mixes with oxygen, producing electricity. In this case the aircraft would be powered by both Hydrogen Fuel and electricity to ensure a successful flight with minimal emissions.

Although, Hydrogen Fuel has been a hot topic of conversation, the limitations of testing and implementing this technology have outweighed the potential demand up to now. The implementation of this kind of “green” fueling would require extensive investments into airport infrastructure to build piping that withstands the fuel’s volatile nature. Additionally, because Hydrogen exists abundantly in primarily a gas form, it would need to be stored both at the airport and in the aircraft at extremely cold temperatures to be able to be used in liquid form while flying. Finally, because of the massive financial investment required to design, build, and test mechanisms that could function entirely off of Hydrogen Fuel, it would initially increase the price for aircraft and engines, as well as the price for Hydrogen fuel would be significantly higher than that of kerosene.

Nonetheless, more and more companies recognize the dire need for these developments in technology, in order to protect our planet from further irreversible damage caused by fossil fuels. So much so that “the director-general of the International Air Transport Association told CNBC that consumers would be willing to pay the extra costs associated with the uptake of sustainable aviation fuel.”