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Hydrogen trumps batteries in project pursuing commercially viable ‘green’ flight

Professional Engineering

Project Fresson aims to use hydrogen fuel cells for commercially viable sustainable flight (Credit: Project Fresson)
Project Fresson aims to use hydrogen fuel cells for commercially viable sustainable flight (Credit: Project Fresson)

Hydrogen fuel cells will power an island-hopping nine-seater plane in a project aimed at demonstrating commercially viable sustainable flight.

Ricardo UK will use its expertise in fuel cell development and Innovatus Technologies will bring its innovative Scottish Hydrogen Fuel Tank (SHyFT) technology to Project Fresson, which is developing a retrofit powertrain for the Britten-Norman Islander.

Led by Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS), the project had previously planned to use batteries in an all-electric powertrain. It announced today (30 March), however, that Ricardo and Innovatus had been selected “following a rigorous assessment of hydrogen technology innovators”.

An announcement said: “Having completed a comprehensive evaluation of technologies and configurations for sustainable aircraft propulsion, the Fresson team concluded that hydrogen fuel cell technology is the optimum solution to meet environmental, regulatory and operational requirements for this size of aircraft, enabling zero carbon emissions and reducing operating costs.

“This has presented the Fresson consortium, which includes Britten-Norman and Cranfield University, with an opportunity to deliver an enhanced technology programme that surpasses the original demonstrator concept.” 

The project aims to complete its emissions-free flying demonstrator by September next year. It was previously announced that the aircraft would fly short routes between the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland.

Steve Dyke, managing director of Ricardo Automotive and Industrial EMEA Division, said: “We are already working on hydrogen and fuel cell technology, providing clean efficient solutions which reduce carbon and noxious emissions across a wide range of sectors. Our work for the Fresson consortium will enable us to consolidate and grow our hydrogen fuel cell and propulsion capability, so that Ricardo can achieve its ambition of becoming a world-leader in hydrogen and fuel cell services and solutions, and help accelerate net-zero transportation.” 

Innovatus has developed an ultra-lightweight hydrogen tank design that exploits cellular core composite techniques. CEO Ruan Swart said: “Our unique and innovative SHyFT solution is game-changing in bringing zero carbon fuel cell energy to commercial reality in the transport sector. Project Fresson showcases important Scottish innovation and next generation hydrogen tank manufacturing in the UK.” 

Jenny Kavanagh, chief strategy officer at CAeS, said: “Covid-19 has caused the biggest crisis in aviation’s history. It’s important that, as the sector ‘builds back better’, it does so with sustainability at its heart. Project Fresson is more than just a technology demonstrator. It has one focus above all others – real operational and commercial viability.” 

Rolls-Royce will leave Project Fresson, following the change in focus to hydrogen fuel cells. The firm would have supplied the power management system for the electric powertrain. “Rolls-Royce will continue to actively research the use of hydrogen in aviation and this decision in no way reflects its overall view of hydrogen as a potential technology,” today’s announcement said.

Project Fresson is supported by the ATI Programme, a joint government and industry investment to ‘maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture’. The programme, delivered through a partnership between the Aerospace Technology Institute, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK, aims to address technology, capability and supply chain challenges. 


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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