Rolls-Royce Marks Successful Engine Test Run on Hydrogen

The ‘breakthrough’ represents an important step towards powering commercial aviation with the ‘green’ fuel.

Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A Hydrogen Test at Boscombe Down [Courtesy: Rolls-Royce]

Rolls-Royce International [RYCEY] has marked a new milestone in the quest to field a viable hydrogen-powered solution for commercial aviation.

In partnership with European low-cost carrier easyJet, the aerospace giant announced yesterday that it had completed a successful test run of its AE 2100A gas turbine powerplant fueled by “green” hydrogen. Chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini called the event a “breakthrough” for the company and the industry: “This achievement not only represents a technological breakthrough but demonstrates a tangible step towards proving that hydrogen could be a zero-carbon aviation fuel of the future,” she said via LinkedIn.

As reported by the BBC, Rolls-Royce has been staging the tests at its facility on Salisbury Plain, in the United Kingdom, after development in Derby. The test makes for the first such run of a “modern aircraft engine” solely on hydrogen. The green hydrogen used in the test run was produced by the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.

That demonstration is critical in making strides towards the aviation industry’s goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. "The reason we're looking at hydrogen is really the drive for Net Zero," said Alan Newby, director of aerospace technology for Rolls-Royce. Along with the OEM, easyJet has contributed “several million pounds” financially towards the project.

Fielding a new engine will take significantly more development work—and putting that on a transport category aircraft carrying hydrogen in the supercooled, liquid state needed to operate its engines—lies even farther down the runway.

Other companies in the general aviation and regional aviation sectors are at work on making the transition, such as ZeroAvia and MagniX, both for smaller aircraft than the airliners targeted by Rolls-Royce and easyJet.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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