UK-based researchers will develop a new hydrogen propulsion system for sub-regional aircraft

A ground-breaking UK-based collaboration programme, worth £54m, will develop the first hydrogen propulsion system for GKN Aerospace’s sub-regional aircraft.

The programme, named H2GEAR, will first focus on significantly improving the performance of the hydrogen propulsion systems onboard sub-regional aircraft. The programme is supported by £27m of Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) funding, matched by GKN Aerospace and its industrial partners.

The H2GEAR programme will convert liquid hydrogen to electricity within a fuel cell system, which uses technology developed at the University of Birmingham, UK. This electricity efficiently powers the aircraft, eliminating CO2 emissions. This would create a new generation of clean air travel, eliminating harmful CO2 emissions.

Professor Robert Steinberger-Wilckens, of the Birmingham Energy Institute, says: “We will be offering considerable increases in power density and reduced weight, in an attempt at making fuel cell systems a viable option for zero-emission air travel. We are excited that our group has been recognised as a key technology provider and will be forging a new link between the Birmingham Energy Institute and Midlands Energy Research Accelerator with the field of aerospace R&D.”

H2GEAR will reinforce the UK’s position at the forefront of aerospace technology research and development. GKN Aerospace will collaborate with Intelligent Energy, Aeristech, Newcastle University, the University of Manchester, and the University of Birmingham, throughout the programme, aiming to create more than 3,000 jobs in the next decade. The programme will be delivered from GKN Aerospace’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol, the company’s £32m collaborative space for research and development.

Russ Dunn, Chief Technology Officer for GKN Aerospace, said: “Hydrogen-powered aircraft offer a clear route to keep the world connected, with dramatically cleaner skies. The UK is at the forefront of this technology, and the H2GEAR project is an example of industry, academia, and Government collaboration at its best. Working with our partners, and made possible by Government investment, GKN Aerospace will develop and industrialise the breakthrough technology to fly aircraft with zero CO2 emissions by the mid-2020s. This will not only create thousands of jobs, but it will keep the UK at the forefront of the next generation of cleaner air travel for decades to come.”

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