LONDON – Plans to reduce aviation’s significant environmental impact took a step forward this week Rolls-Royce And the EasyJet They said they had conducted the ground test of a jet engine that uses hydrogen produced from tidal and wind energy.
In a statement this week, aerospace giant Rolls-Royce — not to be confused with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which is owned by BMW He described the news as a “landmark” and said it was “the world’s first operation of a modern pneumatic engine powered by hydrogen.”
The test, which took place at an overseas location in the UK, used a converted regional jet engine from a London-listed Rolls-Royce.
The hydrogen came from facilities at the European Marine Energy Center in Orkney, an archipelago in waters north of mainland Scotland. Since its inception in 2003, EMEC has become a major center for wave and tidal energy development.
Grant Shapps, UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategies, said the test was an “exciting demonstration of how business innovation can transform the way we live our lives”.
“This is a real British success story, as hydrogen is used to power the jet engine that is being produced today using tidal and wind power from the Orkney Islands in Scotland,” Shapps added.
Described by the International Energy Agency as a “versatile energy carrier,” hydrogen has a wide variety of applications and can be deployed in a wide range of industries.
It can be produced in several ways. One method involves electrolysis, using an electric current that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen.
If the electricity used in this process comes from a renewable source such as wind or tidal power, some call it “green” or “renewable” hydrogen. Today, most hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels.
Using hydrogen to power an internal combustion engine differs from hydrogen fuel cell technology, in that hydrogen from a tank mixes with oxygen to generate electricity.
As the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuel Data Center notes: “Fuel cell electric vehicles emit only water vapor and warm air, and produce no tailpipe emissions.”
By contrast, hydrogen ICEs can produce other emissions. “Hydrogen engines emit near zero, trace amounts of carbon dioxide…but can produce nitrogen oxides, or nitrogen oxides,” cuminan engine maker, he says.
Aviation’s environmental footprint is significant, with the World Wildlife Fund describing it as “one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.”
The WWF also says that air travel is “currently the most carbon-intensive activity an individual can undertake.”
Earlier this year, Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbustold CNBC that aviation “has the potential to face significant hurdles if we can’t decarbonize at the right pace.”
Fawry added that hydrogen aircraft represent the “ultimate solution” in the medium and long term.
While there is excitement in some quarters about hydrogen aircraft and their potential, a great deal of work needs to be done to commercialize and disseminate the technology on a large scale.
Speaking to CNBC last year, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has sounded cautious when it comes to the prospects for new and emerging technologies in the sector.
“I think…we have to be honest again,” he said. “Absolutely, over the next decade… I don’t think you’re going to see any — there’s no technology out there that’s going to replace… carbon and jet aviation.”
“I don’t see … hydrogen fuels arriving, I don’t see sustainable fuels arriving, I don’t see electric propulsion systems arriving, certainly not before 2030,” O’Leary added.