Cranfield to lead on hydrogen tech hub for aviation

Cranfield University will lead the research and development of a hydrogen technology hub to demonstrate the potential of hydrogen as a net zero aviation fuel.

The £69 million investment will create the Cranfield Hydrogen Integration Incubator (CH2i), the largest financial injection for research that the university has ever secured.

Some £23 million of cash comes from Research England’s Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), with a further £46 million committed from industry partners and academic institutions.

Estimates suggest UK passenger traffic could increase from 284 million in 2016 to 435 million by 2050 for aviation, but action is needed urgently due to the carbon emissions from the transport mode. Scaling up and rapidly developing hydrogen-enabled aviation is a critical part of addressing growing demands whist transitioning to cleaner air transport in this context.

A net zero emissions goal for aviation of 2040 has been set through the government’s Jet Zero strategy, with CH2i aiming to support the aviation industry to explore how to hit the goal.

CH2i will connect the production, integration and use of hydrogen for net zero aviation, proving how the industry can decarbonise rapidly. It will include three infrastructure elements: a hydrogen integration research centre, a hydrogen innovation test area, and the development of Cranfield’s airport.

The research collaboration, linking into a new Centre for Doctoral Training in Net Zero Aviation at Cranfield, will provide an environment to develop the production technologies, catalysts, materials, structures, storage tanks, aircraft designs and engines that are urgently required to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen in a net zero world.

As the only university in Europe with its own airport, research aircraft and air traffic control facilities, Cranfield has a controlled airside environment which can demonstrate, test and advance new technologies, systems and processes at scale. The funding will also provide new equipment, project management and staffing to support the project.

Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University, said: “This game-changing investment builds on Cranfield’s expertise in hydrogen research and will help the aviation industry to make the leap to using hydrogen.

“CH2i will integrate with other large industry research areas at Cranfield including our novel hydrogen production programmes and our Aerospace Integration Research Centre and the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre.

“Working with research and industry partners nationally and internationally, we will unlock some of the most significant technical challenges around the future development and deployment of hydrogen in aviation. It’s a very exciting prospect for our researchers, partners and for the aviation industry. It will help to build the pathway to net zero emissions aviation.”

Professor Leon A.Terry, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Cranfield University, said: “A key part of this initiative is achieving rapid innovation within a regulated, safety-critical context.

“Cranfield has existing expertise in the production, storage and use of hydrogen in an industrial context, and a track record of building near-industrial scale facilities. This funding heralds a transformation in the hydrogen research trajectory, and our unique expertise and facilities puts Cranfield right at the centre of accelerating hydrogen development in the UK.”

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