Luxury carmaker Rolls-Royce has reached a major milestone in its development of net-zero aircraft engines with the successful test of a hydrogen-powered engine.
- Rolls-Royce announced on Monday that the company successfully converted an AE 2100-A aircraft engine to low-emissions hydrogen power, Reuters reports.
- The initial engine tests are just the first round and will eventually lead to flight tests, which could eventually lead to mass adoption of hydrogen fuel for air travel.
- Hydrogen could provide a safe and clean alternative to greenhouse gas emissions produced by airplanes and help countries meet net zero emissions targets while preserving the airline industry.
- Airbus is similarly studying and testing hydrogen engines as an alternative fuel source.
Why it’s Important
The push toward hydrogen technology offers a promising path for the clean-energy revolution as alternative energy sources are sought out to replace fossil fuels like coal and oil.
The airline industry in particular has been heavily criticized for producing more than 1 billion tons of carbon emissions per year—with the average plane producing 100 times the emissions of a train or bus. Climate activists, such as the group We Stay on the Ground, have shamed the airline industry for destructive levels of emissions and attempted to build movements that discourage air travel as a viable technology in the fight against climate change, Vox reports.
The transition toward net-zero flight travel is not going to be immediate, as the infrastructure for providing clean hydrogen, produced with net-zero processes, is not in place.
“[Airbus] told the European Union in 2021 that most airliners will rely on traditional jet engines until at least 2050. A switch to hydrogen-powered engines would require a complete redesign of airframes and infrastructure at airports,” says Reuters.
Other industries have embraced hydrogen-powered technologies and begun testing it as a viable fuel source, including railroads like Canadian Pacific and other passenger railroads in North America and Europe.
Rolls-Royce and Airbus are also investigating other potential fuel sources including electric engines for short flights and other fuel alternatives, Reuters reports.