Zero emissions flight pioneer ZeroAvia has signed a Heads of Terms collaboration with Protium to develop and expand green hydrogen infrastructure for decarbonising aviation in the UK. Project developer Protium has long-term ambitions to eventually own and operate green hydrogen infrastructure across UK airports. The UK and US based ZeroAvia recently operated a first zero-emission flight from Cranfield, with a six-seater aircraft using hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen in a fuel cell system to create electricity and propel the aircraft whilst only emitting water vapour. It is initialling targeting commercial operations in 2023 with a 10-20 seat aircraft for passenger transport and package delivery. Meanwhile, research commissioned by cross-industry group Sustainable Aviation has identified seven industrial clusters in the UK that could be home to up to 14 sustainable aviation fuel facilities.
Following its flight from Cranfield University’s airfield, ZeroAvia is now planning the next and final stage of its six-seat development programme with a 250-mile zero-emission flight out of an airfield in Orkney, Scotland before the end of this year.
The programme in the UK is part-funded through the UK government’s Aerospace Technology Institute, which is supporting the HyFlyer project that aims to decarbonise medium-range small passenger aircraft by demonstrating powertrain technology to replace conventional piston engine in propeller aircraft. As well as Protium, other partners in the project include the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) and Intelligent Energy. The latter is optimising its high-power fuel cell technology for application in aviation while EMEC, producers of green hydrogen from renewable energy, is supplying the hydrogen required for flight testing and developing a mobile refuelling platform compatible with the plane.
ZeroAvia has joined the UK’s Jet Zero Council, a government and industry partnership launched by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this summer to drive net-zero ambitions for the UK aviation and aerospace sector. Along with government ministers, the Council is made up of representatives from the aviation industry, investor groups and an NGO, and will be chaired by the UK’s Transport Secretary and Business Secretary. The full list of Council members has now been published by the government.
The principal aims of the body are to:
- Develop and industrialise zero-emission aviation and aerospace technologies;
- Establish UK production facilities for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and commercialising the industry by driving down production costs; and
- Develop a coordinated approach to the policy and regulatory framework needed to deliver net zero aviation by 2050.
“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges faced by modern society, and we know we need to go further and faster if we are to make businesses sustainable long into the future,” said Aviation Minister Robert Courts. “That’s why we’re bringing together government, business and investors to reduce emissions in the aviation sector. Through innovative technologies such as sustainable fuels, hybrid and eventually electric planes, we will build a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future for all.”
Sustainable Aviation (SA), which committed in February to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, believes a UK SAF industry could add £2.9 billion ($3.7bn) annually to the economy, create 20,000 jobs in SAF production and export services, and deliver savings of 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2038. The industry group is calling for £500 million ($640m) in government funding, made up of £429 million in government-backed loan guarantees for the initial first-of-its-kind SAF production facilities, £50 million in grants and development support for new SAF technologies, and £21 million to establish a UK clearing house to enable SAF testing and approval.
The SA-commissioned research undertaken by energy consultancy E4tech showed 14 SAF production facilities could be built in seven industrial clusters situated in Teesside, Humberside, North West England, South Wales, Southampton, St Fergus and Grangemouth, Scotland. Humberside is the intended location for the Altalto waste-to-jet-fuel facility proposed by Velocys and backed by British Airways and Shell, which is expected to be the first in the UK to produce SAF.
“The research shows that it is possible to deliver on the government’s Jet Zero ambition and transform aviation using readily available feedstocks, innovative technology and existing aircraft,” commented Henrik Wareborn, CEO of Velocys. “With Altalto, the Humber could fuel this transformation, cutting carbon and creating jobs in the process. As a key cluster for the development of this new domestic industry, the region has a fantastic opportunity to establish itself as the global hub for fuelling future air travel.”
Added Adam Morton, Chair of Sustainable Aviation: “Sustainable aviation fuels will be essential for the global aviation industry in a net zero world and the UK has a golden opportunity to become a world-leader by commercialising this technology at an early stage.
“There are enormous benefits in terms of jobs and growth across these clusters. By backing SAF in this way, the government can kickstart a green recovery and create high-quality and futureproof jobs for thousands of people. All of this can be delivered at the same time as slashing carbon emissions.”
Speaking at a cross-party parliamentary debate he called to discuss the work of the Jet Zero Council, Andrew Selous MP said: “We should harness our huge strength in aviation technology and engineering to find new solutions to allow us to fly without wrecking the planet.
“We also need to ensure that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of sustainable aviation, so that the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future are provided here. We cannot leave this to chance, as has unfortunately happened with other technologies in the past.”
Responded Aviation Minister Robert Courts: “Britain has always led the way on aviation, and we will continue to do so. There is a huge prize in sight: developing the sector that meets the challenges of the future, and we will be front and centre, capturing those first mover advantages.”
Commenting after the debate, Morton said: “The support from a broad range of MPs from right across the political landscape is testament to this crucial issue. It’s so important to see this coalition come together to back early stage sustainable aviation fuel facilities.”
The next meeting of the Jet Zero Council is due to take place at the end of this month, which Sustainable Aviation said would be an opportunity for government and industry to discuss and make progress on accelerating the development of early-stage SAF facilities.
The only environmental group represented on the Council is the Aviation Environment Federation. Its Director, Tim Johnson, said: “Some government support and incentive for sustainable aviation fuel R&D is reasonable, and happens already, but that helps to accelerate bringing a product to market. But once at market, the question is scaling up and getting it into the fleet. The quid pro quo must therefore be that industry accepts it can’t rely on voluntary approaches and market forces, which hasn’t really worked to date for SAF because it doesn’t create certainty for investors – and that governments must regulate and introduce effective carbon pricing that ensures uptake.”
Photo: ZeroAvia’s Piper M-class retrofitted aircraft undertakes first hydrogen flight