British aerospace giant Rolls-Royce Holdings (LSE: RR) has successfully completed the first test run of a hydrogen-powered jet engine, in what is considered to be a world-first for the aviation industry.
The testing was carried out as part of a joint venture with airline provider easyJet (LSE: EZJ), in a bid to prove that hydrogen can safely and efficiently deliver power for civil aero engines.
Rolls-Royce said the testing success was a “major step towards proving that hydrogen could be a zero-carbon aviation fuel of the future”.
Tests were done through a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine, using green hydrogen created by wind and tidal power.
The hydrogen was supplied by European Marine Energy Centre, generated using renewable energy at a production and tidal test facility on Eday in the Orkney Islands off the north of Scotland.
Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini said the successful testing was an exciting milestone for the company.
“We are pushing the boundaries to discover the zero-carbon possibilities of hydrogen, which could help reshape the future of flight,” he said.
Rolls-Royce said both itself and easyJet retain a “longer-term ambition to carry out flight tests” of a hydrogen-fuelled engine.
Hydrogen leads decarbonisation plans
The aircraft manufacturer told the European Union back in 2021 that most airliners would rely on traditional jet engines until at least 2050.
Transitioning to hydrogen-powered engines requires a redesign of airframes and infrastructure at airports.
easyJet chief operating officer David Morgan believes that hydrogen power is the best option for reducing emissions in short haul aviation.
“We started a few years ago looking at what might power the aircraft of the future,” he said.
“We looked at battery technology, and it was quite clear that the battery technology was probably not going to do it for the large commercial aircraft that we fly.”
“We’ve come to the conclusion that hydrogen is a very exciting proposition for us,” he added.
Hydrogen is seen as a better option over batteries as it provides much more power per kilogram, and batteries are seen as too heavy to power larger planes.
UK leads the hydrogen charge
The tests so far have been performed at the UK Ministry of Defence’s test and evaluation facility at Boscombe Down in the southwest of England.
Rolls-Royce first announced the trials back in July at the Farnborough air show, where the giant confirmed easyJet would be providing financial support.
The partnership is driven by the global, UN-backed Race to Zero campaign that both companies signed up to, committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Experts believe the initial tests conducted may one day be seen as the first steps towards a technological revolution within the industry.
State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy secretary Grant Shapps said the UK is leading the charge towards decarbonising aviation across the globe.
“The UK is leading the global shift to guilt-free flying, and today’s test by Rolls-Royce and easyJet is an exciting demonstration of how business innovation can transform the way we live our lives,” he said.
“This is a true British success story, with the hydrogen being used to power the jet engine today produced using tidal and wind energy from the Orkney Islands of Scotland – and is a prime example of how we can work together to make aviation cleaner while driving jobs across the country.”