DALLAS – FlyZero, a UK research project into zero-carbon commercial air transport, has released its vision for a new generation of liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft.
The report, titled “Our Vision for Zero-Carbon Emission Air Travel,” is the culmination of a 12-month investigation into the feasibility of zero-carbon aircraft. The project indicates that aviation can reach net zero emissions by 2050 if sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and green liquid hydrogen technologies are developed.
According to the report, UK companies must be ready to demonstrate the technology on new hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2025 in order to earn market share. This timeline is critical for new zero-carbon aircraft to enter service by 2035 and to meet the net-zero target of 2050.
FlyZero, a project led by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and backed by the UK government, has determined that green liquid hydrogen is the best fuel for zero-carbon flight and that it could power a midsize aircraft carrying 280 passengers directly from London to San Francisco or from London to Auckland with just one stop.
The most probable approach for decreasing carbon emissions and increasing any market effect is to introduce a midsize hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035 and a narrowbody aircraft by 2037. If half of the commercial fleet was hydrogen-powered by 2050, aviation’s carbon emissions would drop by four gigatons (Gt), or four years’ worth of total world aviation carbon emissions, and 14 Gt by 2060.
Working with global OEMs, governments, and regulatory agencies, the UK can build on decades of expertise in aerospace innovation to drive a new generation of liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft into our skies.
With focused technological investment, the UK could increase its market share in civil aerospace from 12% today to 19% by 2050, boosting the sector’s gross value added to the economy from £11bn to £36bn and increasing the number of aerospace employment from 116,000 to 154,000.
FlyZero Report Findings
The FlyZero project has made some initial conclusions that require further investigation and investment to understand the feasibility and approach to innovation for the next phase.
To this end, the ATI will incorporate the findings from the project into its forthcoming technology and portfolio strategies and look to pursue opportunities for the UK, publishing its detailed conclusions through a series of reports which explore the technology challenges, manufacturing demands, operational requirements, market opportunity and sustainability credentials of zero-carbon emission commercial aircraft. Below are the initial key findings:
- Technology – revolutionary technology breakthroughs are required in six areas to achieve zero-carbon emission flight: hydrogen fuel systems and tanks, hydrogen gas turbines, hydrogen fuel cells, electrical propulsion systems, aerodynamic structures and thermal management. The UK has expertise and capability today in these, but little in liquid hydrogen fuels.
- Carbon emissions – global cumulative CO2 emissions from aviation could be reduced by 4 gigatons (Gt) by 2050 and 14 Gt by 2060. This requires 50% of the commercial fleet to be hydrogen-powered by 2050 and assumes midsize hydrogen-powered aircraft are operating by 2035, with hydrogen-powered narrowbody aircraft in service by 2037.
- Non-CO2 emissions – burning hydrogen in a gas turbine emits no CO2 or SOx but water emissions are over 2.5 times higher than for fossil fuel-powered aircraft. Particulate matter will largely be eliminated, and it is estimated that NOx emissions will be reduced by 50 to 70%.
Sustainability – developing a new generation of aircraft presents an opportunity to integrate sustainability into design and manufacture, and further improve the reuse of materials.
- Economics – from the mid-2030s liquid hydrogen will be cheaper than the most widely available sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), power-to-liquid.
Market impact – the optimum route to decarbonising aviation is through the accelerated introduction into service of a large commercial aircraft similar to FlyZero’s midsize concept which is capable of reaching anywhere in the world with just one stop. Less commercially risky than developing a narrowbody first, this midsize first approach would also allow infrastructure development to be focused on fewer, but larger international hub airports.
- Infrastructure and operations – generating the quantity of hydrogen needed for aviation will require unprecedented renewable energy capacity. Transporting hydrogen to airports will require gaseous pipelines or liquid hydrogen tanker deliveries, while refuelling aircraft will require larger diameter hoses and increased automation to ensure it can take place safely and efficiently alongside other aircraft.
- Research – the UK requires a hydrogen research and development facility with open access for academia and a range of industries including aerospace, automotive, marine, space and energy.
- Climate science – research into the climate impact of emissions from hydrogen gas turbines including through modelling and testing is fundamental alongside the technology development.
Featured image: FlyZero aircraft concepts over London. Render: ATI