Sustainability : UK Backs Non-Stop Liquid Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft

A concept aircraft unveiled by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) that could one day fly anywhere in the world with no carbon emissions and just one stop has been hailed as the future of aerospace and aviation by the UK Government.

Carries 279 Passengers From San Francisco Non-Stop

Developed by a team of aerospace and aviation experts from across the UK collaborating on the government-backed FlyZero project, the (as-yet concept) aircraft recently unveiled by the ATI runs on liquid hydrogen and can carry 279 passengers to San Francisco non-stop or Auckland with one-stop.

The aircraft design shows the huge potential of green liquid hydrogen for air travel not just regionally or in short-haul flight but for global connectivity.

Hydrogen Combustion Engines

The midsize aircraft design has a 54-metre wingspan and carries two turbofan engines powered by hydrogen combustion. The liquid hydrogen fuel is stored in cryogenic fuel tanks at around minus 250 degrees Celsius in the aft fuselage, with two smaller ‘cheek’ tanks along the forward fuselage. These cheek tanks also serve to keep the aircraft balanced as the fuel burns off and eliminates the need for any additional aerodynamic structures.

No Carbon Emissions

Liquid hydrogen is a lightweight fuel, which has three times the energy of kerosene and sixty times the energy of batteries, per kilogramme. One massive benefit of the aircraft’s hydrogen combustion engines is that they emit zero CO2 when the fuel is burned.

Necessary Technologies Identified

Although still to be built, FlyZero’s work on the project has identified the on-board, infrastructure, and ground equipment for refuelling which, following rapid development, could actually deliver zero-carbon emission flight. These advanced technologies include wings without fuel tanks (dry wings), hydrogen tanks, cryogenic fuel systems, fuel cells and electrical power systems, and hydrogen gas turbines.

New Dawn For Aviation

FlyZero’s Project Director, Chris Gear, said: “At a time of global focus on tackling climate change, our midsize concept sets out a truly revolutionary vision for the future of global air travel keeping families, businesses and nations connected without the carbon footprint.”

 “This new dawn for aviation brings with it real opportunities for the UK aerospace sector to secure market share, highly skilled jobs and inward investment while helping to meet the UK’s commitments to fight climate change.”

Tackling Climate Change and Helping UK Industry

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said about the project: “Fuelling planes sustainably will enable the public to travel as we do now, but in a way that doesn’t damage the planet. It will not only help us to end our contribution to climate change, but also represents a huge industrial opportunity for the UK.”

Challenges

The design may be very promising and has received widespread praise, but the reality is that we may still be many years away from building and operating these aircraft. Although many of the necessary technologies have been identified, there are still many challenges to overcome, for example, the inevitable costs and actually setting up the infrastructure.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?

For businesses in the aerospace sector, if this concept aircraft project could be made a reality, it could deliver real opportunities to secure market share, highly skilled jobs and inward investment while helping to meet the UK’s commitments to fight climate change. For the UK government (whose FlyZero project helped develop the concept aircraft), it represents a promising way to create green jobs, help it to meet its net-zero targets, and show the rest of the world that it is at least conducting leading research in this sector. For airline operators, the fact that it’s a ‘midsize’ concept would meet the demands of a unique sector of the market between single-aisle and widebody aircraft operations which together account for 9 per cent of aviation’s carbon emissions. Although still a concept with a lot of challenges to be met before the aircraft becomes a reality, many feel that this project has been an important step in the right direction.

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