The UK-government-backed Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) recently published a report highlighting the key technologies required to meet the country’s commitment to eliminate carbon from air transport by 2050 through its FlyZero program. The UK Capability in Zero-Carbon Aircraft Technologies document summarizes what the organization views as key business opportunities in areas such as wings, aerodynamic structures, fuel systems, and turbine engines, and includes outline plans for a possible 75-seat hydrogen-powered airliner.
The report challenges UK companies to “demonstrate new systems on disruptive technologies in the next one to two years for a subregional aircraft and by 2025 for a larger aircraft.” However, it makes no specific mention of new funding available through ATI, though the industry has been eagerly awaiting that since last year when the anticipated next tranche of government-supported investment was suspended. “To maintain its leading position, the UK must invest in these technology areas to both transition incumbents and foster new entrants,” the ATI states.
ATI identifies expertise in new proton exchange membrane fuel cells as being critical to bringing cryogenic hydrogen-based propulsion systems into commercial aviation service. It warns that competitors in the European Union and Japan could be making faster progress in this area, having already made “a concerted start on hydrogen-powered aircraft.”
The FlyZero regional aircraft concept previewed in the new report is projected to be able to carry 75 passengers at speeds of around 325 knots on sectors of up to 800 nm. ATI said it would likely be deployed by airlines on routes of around half that length, replacing existing jets and turboprops.
Liquid hydrogen would power the envisaged aircraft, with the fuel stored in cryogenic tanks at around -250 deg C in the aft fuselage alongside fuel cells. An electrical distribution system would transfer electrical power out to the wings to drive three sets of propellers on each wing via motors fitted in nacelles.
According to ATI, it is preparing to publish more detailed proposals in March for a trio of aircraft concepts that would also include “narrowbody” and “midsized” airliners. It said this next FlyZero project update will feature technology roadmaps, market and economic reports, and a sustainability assessment of the proposals.
Airbus is working on three possible concepts for hydrogen-powered airliners and aims to launch one of these as a confirmed program. The European aerospace group aims to have an aircraft in commercial service around 2035.