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Wed, Nov 30, 2022

Rolls Royce Static Fires Hydrogen Aircraft Engine

Much Ado About H2

Rolls-Royce, the British aerospace and defense company and world’s second-largest maker of aircraft engines (after General Electric), has partnered with easyJet, the British low-cost airline group, to convert and run a modern, gas-turbine aircraft engine on hydrogen—and in so doing set a milestone in aerospace propulsion.  

The ground static-fire test of a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A engine was conducted at England’s Royal Air Force Boscombe Down military air base.

The hydrogen fuel—in an unseemly paroxysm of green virtue-signaling—was created using wind and tidal power by European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), an organization researching wave and tidal power-development in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, and shipped to the military base by oceanic ferry.

The successful test—though merely a preliminary proof-of-concept exercise—demonstrates that extant turbine engines can indeed be powered by hydrogen fuel.

Rolls Royce chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini remarked: "The success of this hydrogen test is an exciting milestone. We only announced our partnership with easyJet in July and we are already off to an incredible start with this landmark achievement. We are pushing the boundaries to discover the zero-carbon possibilities of hydrogen, which could help reshape the future of flight."

Rolls Royce plans to run additional static-fire tests before undertaking full-scale ground testing regimen using a Rolls Royce Pearl 15 turbine engine. Subject engine was developed for use on Bombardier’s Global 5500 and 6500 aircraft, both of which are capable of reaching speeds as high as Mach 0.90 and have maximum ranges of 5,126 and 5,735-nautical-miles respectively.

Hydrogen is one of a number of competing technologies upon which the aviation industry has predicated its largely self-promotional goal of becoming carbon net zero by 2050. Notwithstanding Rolls Royce’s successful test firing and vehement statements to the contrary by environmental activists, a switch to hydrogen powerplants would require radical alteration of existing airframe designs and airport infrastructure.

Eric Schulz, chief executive of SHZ Consulting—a French aerospace consultancy to which major airframers, OEMs, tech companies, airlines, financial institutions, and private equity firms turn for industry forecasts—stated in July 2022 that the changes in design [requisite an industry-wide switch to hydrogen fuel] are of such massive scope, complexity, and cost as to require multiple generations of aircraft to actualize.

Nevertheless, Airbus is currently working with French-U.S. engine-maker CFM International to test hydrogen propulsion technology. The consortium stated in February 2022 that it intends to fit an A380 test aircraft with a current generation turbine engine modified to run on hydrogen. However, in a 2021 statement to the European Union, Airbus opined that most airliners will rely on traditional [fossil-fuel-burning] jet engines until at least 2050.

FMI: www.rolls-royce.com

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