On The Radar
Advocates for hydrogen fuel to be at the forefront of decarbonizing air transport know this journey must start with a series of first steps. One such step is being made in the UK with the launch of Project Heart, through which multiple partners are preparing to support trial operations at several regional airports.
One of these partners is Haskel, which is integrating its hydrogen compression system with an electrolyzer developed by Norway’s Nel Hydrogen to provide hydrogen for fuel cell-based propulsion trials on regional aircraft seating up to 19 passengers. The UK-based company has just published a white paper to assess the challenges and opportunities around providing the infrastructure needed for the move away from fossil fuels.
The rate at which aviation’s use of hydrogen as fuel gets scaled up would appear to be subject to a vicious circle similar to that which continues to constrain the adoption of any sustainable aviation fuel. With supplies remaining limited and distribution networks immature, the cost of the new fuel continues to be prohibitive by comparison with jet-A.
“The price of hydrogen is currently higher than what would be acceptable and a lack of infrastructure is a big part of this,” David Muckle, Haskel’s hydrogen systems business unit leader, told AIN.
At a site in South Wales, Haskel, Nel Hydrogen, and green hydrogen energy group Protium are integrating systems needed to establish a fuel production facility called Pioneer 2 that could support aviation and other industries. It is hoped this will prove to be a template for other facilities that would then support a distribution network including airports.
With partial funding from the UK Research & Innovation agency’s Future Flight Challenge, the Project Heart partners aim to be producing fuel by this summer. They hope to be supporting trial flight operations by year-end with as-yet-unconfirmed aircraft that might include ZeroAvia’s Dornier 228 flying test bed based at Cotswold Airport in southwest England. Initially, the new fuel would support flight trials with aircraft seating up to 19 passengers and operating on sectors of up to 500 miles.
While the technological challenges don't seem insurmountable, to induce the air transport sector to take the leap toward hydrogen Muckle and other observers feel governments may yet have to supplement funding "carrots" with regulatory "sticks" that could include new taxes on fossil fuels.
In the UK, the political dimensions around decarbonization are topical as in an election year the current government is backtracking on previous commitments to contain dependence on fossil fuels. Weeks after signing up for the COP28 climate change conference commitment to transition away from oil and gas, the UK government is introducing legislation to issue new exploration licenses in the North Sea.
Nonetheless, Muckle said that increases in UK and European funding for hydrogen initiatives give grounds for optimism. Haskel has been producing hydrogen compression systems for 20 years and is now rolling out a new generation of its MP500 Geno technology that will generally support the production of gaseous hydrogen at around 30 bar, which can go up to 1,000 bar if needed.