The British engine manufacturer Rolls Royce announced yesterday that a new key milestone, a world first in the industry, has been reached in its hydrogen research project.
Rolls-Royce and its partner easyJet engage “to be at the forefront of developing hydrogen combustion engine technology capable of powering a range of aircraft, including those in the narrow body market segment, from the mid-2030s.” According to the joint press release, and in collaboration with the University of Loughborough in the United Kingdom and the German Aerospace Center Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt (DLR), Rolls-Royce has “proved a critical engine technology that marks another important milestone in the journey toward using hydrogen as an aviation fuel.”
Tests in an annular combustion chamber with a Pearl 700 engine at the DLR in Cologne, and operating at 100% with hydrogen “have proven that fuel can be burned under conditions that represent a maximum takeoff thrust “.
Key to this achievement was the successful design of advanced fuel spray nozzles to control the combustion process. This involved overcoming significant technical challenges, because hydrogen burns at a much hotter temperature and faster than kerosene. The new nozzles were able to control the position of the flame thanks to a new system that gradually mixes air with hydrogen to manage the reactivity of the fuel. Rolls-Royce says “Happy to confirm that combustion chamber operation and emissions were both as expected. »
Last year, easyJet and Rolls-Royce also achieved a world first by successfully running a modern aircraft engine, an AE2100, on green hydrogen at Boscombe Down, UK. These recent tests mean that the combustion element of the hydrogen program is now well understood, while work continues on the systems for getting the fuel to the engine and integrating those systems with an engine.
“It’s an incredible achievement in a short period of time. Controlling the combustion process is one of the main technological challenges the industry faces in making hydrogen the true aviation fuel of the future”said Grazia Vittadini, director of technology at Rolls-Royce. “We achieved it and it makes us want to keep moving forward. I would like to thank easyJet, Loughborough University and the DLR for their dedication and support in reaching this important milestone. »
“We believe that hydrogen is the future of short-haul aviation and the success of this test and the progress made demonstrate that this is getting closer and closer”said Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet. “We remain optimistic that it will play a vital role in helping us achieve the ambitious targets we have set as part of our net zero emissions roadmap. »
Working with its partners, the National Center for Aerothermal Combustion and Technology (NCCAT) at Loughborough is delighted to have supported the historic testing and development of advanced aerospace fuel spray nozzles using hydrogen. “ This is a major step forward towards net zero aviation”commented Professor Dan Parsons, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Loughborough University.
The technologies tested at Loughborough and DLR will now be integrated with lessons learned from the Boscombe Down tests as Rolls-Royce and easyJet prepare for the next stage of testing: a ground test of fully gaseous hydrogen on a Pearl engine. This will in turn lead to a full ground test on a Pearl engine using liquid hydrogen – both easyJet and Rolls-Royce have a joint ambition to then fly the technology.