Great Britain, long out of the passenger aviation development business since the days of Concorde, is making a return with a concept for a mid-size aircraft powered by liquid hydrogen.
While Concorde was a joint venture with France’s Sud Aviation, out of which Airbus emerged, this time Britain is set to go head to head with Airbus as the other main developer of hydrogen-powered aircraft.
Britain’s so far unnamed concept aircraft has emerged from the FlyZero project, a government-funded initiative led by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), which is responsible for leading the country’s aerospace R&D.
The concept design is for a 279 passenger, 54m wingspan aircraft powered by two turbofan engines with a range of 5,250nm (9,700km), enabling flying half way round the world without a stop or anywhere in the world with just a single refuelling stop – very much in line with today’s larger, long-distance aircraft, and at a similar speed with a similar level of comfort, but with the hydrogen fuel with zero carbon emissions.
“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,” says FlyZero Project Director Chris Gear, who brings years of experience in the industry including a long career with GKN Aerospace.
“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 commitments to fight climate change.”
While the full details of FlyZero will be published only in early 2022 – including three final concepts for regional, narrowbody and midsize aircraft – the project has reported identifying the on board technologies which, together with the infrastructure and ground equipment for refuelling, require rapid development to deliver zero-carbon emission flight.
These include the hydrogen tanks where the fuel is stored at around -250°C, cryogenic fuel systems, fuel cells and electrical power systems and hydrogen gas turbines.
With a dry wing design, i.e. wings without fuel tanks, the main hydrogen tank is located in the aft fuselage, while two smaller tanks are in the forward fuselage, which also serve to maintain the balance of the aircraft as the fuel burns off without the need for additional aerodynamic structures.
Other outcomes to look forward to are technology roadmaps, market and economic reports and a sustainability assessment, which will form the basis for the project’s – and Britain’s – future ambitions.
ATI data indicates liquid hydrogen, besides being lightweight, to have three times the energy of kerosene and sixty times the energy of batteries per kilogramme.
ATI also estimates that a new generation of highly efficient hydrogen-powered aircraft with low fuel costs should have superior operating economics than conventional aircraft from the mid-2030s onwards, based on fuel tax savings and improvement in fuel efficiency.
The FlyZero project has involved experts from across the UK and was designed to realise zero-carbon emission commercial aviation by the end of the decade.
Airbus has targeted 2035 to bring a hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft to market. With Air Liquide, the first hydrogen infrastructure is planned to start appearing at French airports as early as 2023, where it will be used to supply ground vehicles alongside testing its use as part of the airport facilities.