A Rolls-Royce hydrogen research project – supported by Loughborough University – has taken a huge step towards achieving net zero aviation.

The company has announced an industry first as they – alongside easyJet – look to lead the development of hydrogen combustion engine technology capable of powering a range of aircraft.

Working with Loughborough’s National Centre for Combustion and Aerothermal Technology (NCCAT) and the German Aerospace Centre Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt (DLR) – Rolls-Royce has proved a critical engine technology.

Tests on a full annular combustor of a Pearl 700 engine, running on 100% hydrogen, have shown that the fuel can be combusted at conditions representing maximum take-off thrust.

Rolls-Royce is pleased to confirm that combustor operability and emissions were both in line with expectations.

Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Rolls-Royce, said: “This is an incredible achievement. Controlling the combustion process is one of the key challenges the industry faces in making hydrogen a real aviation fuel of the future.

“We have achieved it, and are eager to keep moving forward. I want to thank easyJet, Loughborough University and DLR for their dedication and support to reach this milestone.”

Professor Dan Parsons, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at Loughborough, added: “In conjunction with its partners, NCCAT is delighted to have supported the landmark testing and development of advanced aerospace fuel spray nozzles utilising hydrogen fuel. This is a major advance towards net zero aviation.”

Rolls-Royce and easyJet are now preparing for the next stages of testing. If successful, they have a shared ambition to take the technology to flight.

Rolls-Royce receives support for hydrogen research through the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute HyEST programme, Germany’s LUFO 6 WOTAN programme, and the European Union’s Clean Aviation CAVENDISH programme. Loughborough is a partner in HyEST and CAVENDISH. DLR is a partner in WOTAN and CAVENDISH. easyJet has provided investment to support the development of hydrogen combustion engine technology for narrow-body aircraft.

Image: “Testing at Loughborough University. Image courtesy of Rolls Royce.”