Rolls-Royce Runs AE 2100 Engine On Hydrogen

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Rolls-Royce announced on Monday that it has successfully run a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine on hydrogen. The ground test was conducted in partnership with U.K.-based budget airline easyJet at military aircraft testing site MoD Boscombe Down in Amesbury, England. According to the companies, additional testing is in the works with the long-term goal of running hydrogen-powered flight tests.

“The success of this hydrogen test is an exciting milestone,” said Rolls-Royce Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini. “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.”

Further rig tests are next on the list after data gathered during initial testing is analyzed. The companies are then planning to conduct a full-scale ground test using a Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 engine. Rolls-Royce and easyJet noted that their partnership is “inspired by the global, UN-backed Race to Zero campaign that both companies have signed up to, committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

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Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. It was abandoned because gas and diesel were better.

    Now that politics are trying to stymie the economy, desperate times call for desperate measures.

    As long as there is still oil in the ground and a drill bit to get it, we already have better fuel than electric or hydrogen.

  2. Interesting story, thanks. Also interesting that the initial commenters on this story seem to think they know better than Rolls-Royce 🙂 and without due consideration given to what Rolls and easyJet are trying to achieve here; i.e., committing to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 2050 is still nearly 30 years away, that should be plenty of time to work on new aero engine technology that will be acceptable to the paying public by that time.

    • Your body is 18% carbon, the breath you exhale emits carbon dioxide all day long. The vegetables you eat grew by using carbon dioxide. CO2 is the feedstock for photosynthesis which is the engine of life on earth. The goal of zero-carbon emissions is an ignorant political tool. Chemophobia.

    • Bad logic. If the goal is actually “carbon neutral” or “sustainable” then the worst approach would be to use a jet engine! If the goal is actually “new aero engine technology” then using known engines and known fuels is already a failure. You don’t need to be an expert if you know the basics: history, logic, physics and the denotation of written words.

  3. I appreciate the work by Rolls-Royce to make some progress. The problem not discussed is the production of hydrogen. Although it’s a very common element, to produce fuel grade hydrogen it takes massive amounts of energy. Breakthroughs will be required in the fuel production.

    This will more likely be the future than battery/electric vehicles.

  4. I’m not sure how much of an “exciting milestone” this is or what relevance it has to the *real* problem of getting enough H2 safely onto an aircraft to be useful. Whatever happens, I remain convinced that battery technology will continue to advance far more quickly that that of H2 production and storage, especially when efficiency is factored in.

  5. I don’t doubt a turbine can run on H2. I’m glad it can and I find it interesting.

    What I doubt is:

    a) Is it possible to store enough H2 on board in a weight and space efficient manner (I don’t think so).

    b) Is there any compelling reason to not use Jet A which remains relatively cheap and plentiful? (I don’t think so).

  6. Given that oil, regardless of its climate effects or how vast the remaining supply may be, is in fact a limited resource that sooner or later must be replaced. Hydrogen as a fuel obviously has major, major problems related to both initial production and storage/handling. Still, for aviation at least, hydrogen may well prove to be our least bad option.

    While on the subject of least bad options: It’s worth mentioning that while batteries are likely our least bad option for moving power into ground vehicles, selecting them as the primary storage dictated by using intermittent wind/solar for primary power production (itself a not-least-bad option we were railroaded into) is not. As the national grid is forced more and more towards the stated goal of 100% intermittent-plus-stored power for all energy needs, meeting the demand for scarce materials essential to build and then maintain the vast battery farms that will be required will be a nightmare, if it is even possible.

      • I would hope humans will be around a bit longer than 300 years, and we’ll be needing that oil for all sorts of purposes long beyond that kind of timescale. Politicians only think one election ahead and relish creating & using “emergencies” as a manipulative tool. What we need in places of influence are people who can step back and visualize the long-term consequences of decisions like these.

  7. I agree on all counts, John. Well stated.

    The immense weight of batteries can be hidden, for the most part, in cars but this will never be the case with aviation, and my other passion, motorcycling. The car may be ill handling, but it will get Johnny to soccer practice.

    The periodic table is a cruel mistress and there are only so many potential differentials to be exploited and we are near the top of that curve. Witness the asymptote we are approaching regarding the graph of battery energy density.

    As far as hydrogen being the best (non fossil) option I also agree, but more likely as fuel cell or perhaps a piston engine (more efficient than a turbine) powering a generator with battery hybrid. Analogous to what I believe Ampair is doing.

  8. While I commend Rolls Royce on the achievement, it’s not all that impressive they got a turbine engine to run on hydrogen. After all, a gas turbine engine will run on just about any combustible gas or liquid fuel; you just have to get the fuel metering system properly adjusted. As others have mentioned, the real trick is figuring out how to store enough hydrogen in an aircraft fuel tank to replace several thousand gallons of jet fuel. The only practical way is as a liquid, and as NASA can attest, that ain’t no easy project. In all reality, Rolls Royce has accomplished the easy part. Now the fun begins!

  9. Rogue states – North Korea, Iran, and madmen such as Putin and Xi are simply waiting for the broad expansion of and dependence on the electric power in the US and Europe. Then just a few atmospheric nuclear blast EMPs will destroy western civilization. All those classic cars sold at Mecum and Barrett-Jackson will be more valuable than ever since they will be the only things still running.

  10. While the obsession with “Climate Change” and CO2 is actually destructive. a hydrogen-powered aircraft could be an improvement over current models IF today’s constraints could be overcome. There are still too many accidents and fatalities due to engine failure; a hydrogen fuel cell driving an electric motor would be more reliable.
    1) Most electric aircraft motors have a hollow shaft so they can be stacked, providing separate redundant power to a common propellor shaft.
    2) Add a small battery to buffer between the fuel cell and the motors and you could provide 20-30 minutes of emergency power to land safely should the fuel cell crap out.
    3) Metal hydrides can store hydrogen at normal temperatures and pressures at higher densities than liquid hydrogen. Current hydrides are too heavy for aircraft; research is underway to try to identify a hydride light enough for flight.
    4) Production of the hydrogen required for commercial flight will be difficult without cheaper electricity; electrolysis of water is preferable to extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels. Small modular new-generation nuclear plants are the only likely sources for this power; they’ll also be needed to handle the apparently irresistible onslaught of EVs we’re facing The idea that renewables (solar and wind) could meet this need is laughable; they’re woefully inadequate for today’s needs.

    The history of aviation is filled with advances provided by determined R&D; for example, going from the Liberty engine to the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 in only 20 years. We shouldn’t let the foolishness of the unscientific eco-warriors blind us to the potential advantages afforded by the relative simplicity and reliability of electrical equipment.

  11. All valid points. Especially as the only practical source of ‘clean’ energy the warmists will accept is nuclear. We would need to greatly increase our investment in many nuclear powerplants to make the necessary juice.

    We can also use many more nuclear plants in California for desalinization, similar to what Israel does for all their domestic water needs.

  12. Both Airbus and BMW have done / are working on new composite hydrogen tanks, able to hold more compressed hydrogen at higher pressures than before and guaranteed never to do a Hindenburg.
    When you think of the vast volumes in commercial airliners devoted to storage of kerosene, it could be the lower calories in hydrogen could be compensated by new storage means.
    France has the capacity to produce virtually carbon free hydrogen via nuclear reactors (once current maintenance probs sorted out) — nuclear reactors cannot be “turned down” at night so using the power to make hydrogen then makes sense.
    It could work — one thing is sure, something will have to change, air travel is having the sights focussed on it.

  13. This is far from new. Pratt & Whitney designed and built an engine specifically to run on hydrogen and ran it successfully in 1957. Look up the 304 engine for Project Suntan which was intended to be a reconnaissance platform to replace the U-2. (The A-12/SR-71 eventually took that role.) The technology was abandoned because the logistics made it impractical.