Cutting-edge technologies that could enable hydrogen-powered aircraft and electric-powered flying taxis could be a step closer to entering service, following the announcement by the Business and Transport Secretaries of a £113 million investment to develop such R&D in the UK.
Through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme, the UK Government and industry are jointly backing new zero-carbon technologies to open up a future of what they call “guilt-free flying”. Initiatives include a project by Bristol-based electric aircraft manufacturer, Vertical Aerospace, to develop high-end, lightweight batteries, as well as projects led by Rolls-Royce to develop the basis of a liquid hydrogen combusting jet engine, which would enable aircraft to fly without carbon emissions.
The projects that gain financial backing will also help secure thousands of jobs across the supply chain and hundreds of millions more pounds in private investment across the UK, growing the country’s economy.
The investment will be announced at the seventh meeting of the Jet Zero Council, a partnership between government and industry set up to fast-track ambitions for zero-emission flight by 2050 through investment and focus on advanced technologies and sustainable aviation fuels, as laid out in the Jet Zero Strategy. The Council is leveraging the UK’s aerospace and aviation sectors, which pre-pandemic employed 230,000 people in the UK and contributed £22 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy, to effectively tackle emissions while encouraging growth and green innovation.
The UK Government’s Business Secretary, Grant Shapps, said of the investment: “Guilt-free flying is within our reach, and we are backing the world-leading UK firms whose skills and ingenuity are going to make that dream a reality.
“As the whole world moves to greener forms of aviation, there is a massive opportunity for the UK’s aerospace industry to secure clean, green jobs and growth for decades to come. Together with the companies that share our ambitions, we are determined to seize this moment.”
A recent success of the ATI Programme was the maiden flight of ZeroAvia’s hydrogen fuel cell-powered 19-seater aircraft in January 2023. Further projects have included Hydrogen Engine System Technologies (HYEST), a project led by Rolls-Royce to develop technologies and sub-system architecture for the combustor element of a liquid hydrogen gas turbine; Robustly Achievable Combustion of Hydrogen Engine Layout (RACHEL), a project also led by Rolls-Royce, to develop key technologies and integrated powerplant architecture for a liquid hydrogen gas turbine; and the Liquid Hydrogen Gas Turbine (LH2GT), a project also led by Rolls-Royce, to develop technologies for the delivery of a liquid hydrogen fuel system for a hydrogen gas turbine. ATI has also endorsed the Category Enhanced Battery Development (CEBD) project, led by Vertical Aerospace, focused on developing a prototype propulsion battery system for aerospace applications, including as part of Vertical Aerospace’s electric vertical take off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
The UK’s Department for Transport is also launching a Call for Evidence seeking views from the sector on how to reach the target for airport operations in England to be zero emissions by 2040. The target was set as part of the government’s Jet Zero Strategy, launched in July last year.
Emma Gilthorpe, CEO of the Jet Zero Council (and also COO of Heathrow Airport) said: “The launch of the Jet Zero Strategy last year was a key milestone on the path to decarbonising aviation, and it’s fantastic to see the progress that has been made since then, such as on boosting the UK’s SAF industry and with the International Civil Aviation Organisation aiming to reach net zero by 2050.”