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Ground-breaking Bristol Airport hydrogen trial

Project Acorn is the first airside hydrogen refuelling trial ever to take place at a major UK airport

  • Hydrogen has been used to refuel and power critical parts of easyJet’s ground operation at Bristol Airport, North Somerset, demonstrating hydrogen can be safely and reliably used in place of other fuels in an airport
  • The data and insight gathered will be used to create the first ever safety guidance and inform the creation of the regulatory framework
  • Critically, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has played an active role in the trial as an independent reviewer of the safety case
  • The trial also aims to accelerate the use of hydrogen in aviation and across other industries

A ground-breaking airside hydrogen refuelling trial, led by easyJet and supported by several cross-industry partners, has been successfully completed at Bristol Airport in North Somerset– the first airport trial of its kind at a major UK airport.

Hydrogen was used to refuel and power ground support equipment (GSE) – specifically, baggage tractors – servicing easyJet passenger aircraft. Conducted as part of the airline’s daily operations, the trial demonstrates that the gas can be safely and reliably used to refuel ground equipment in the busy, live airport environment.

The trial, dubbed Project Acorn, was in development for over a year and involved many other leading organisations from across aviation, engineering, logistics and academia. These include Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, Cranfield University, Connected Places Catapult (CPC), DHL Supply Chain, Fuel Cell Systems, the IAAPS research institute, Jacobs, Mulag and TCR.

The group intends to use the outputs of the trial to help develop industry best practice standards, provide guidance to airports, airlines, local authorities and regulators on required infrastructure changes, and support the development of a regulatory framework for hydrogen’s use on an airfield.

The data and insights gathered will also feed into research that groups like Hydrogen in Aviation (HIA) are conducting to ensure UK infrastructure, regulatory and policy changes keep pace with the technological developments in carbon-emission free flying. It also supports the work and ambitions of other bodies such as Hydrogen South West (HSW) and the Hydrogen Innovation Initiative (HII), the latter having also co-funded the project.

David Morgan, Chief Operating Officer at easyJet, said:  

“It’s without doubt that hydrogen will be an important fuel of the future for short-haul aviation, as demonstrated by the rate of innovation we’re seeing.

“While the technology is advancing at an exciting pace, as hydrogen isn’t used in commercial aviation today, there is currently no regulatory guidance in place on how it can and should be used, and so trials like this are very important in building the safety case. This will ensure regulation not only keeps pace with innovation, but importantly also supports the industry in meeting its decarbonisation targets by 2050.”

Anthony Browne, Aviation Minister, comments:

“Project Acorn is a great example of the UK aviation sector pushing the boundaries of what’s possible – using leading engineering to make decarbonisation a reality from the ground operation to the planes themselves.

“Innovative projects like this are crucial to achieving our target, set out in the Jet Zero Strategy of zero emission airport operations by 2040.”

Project Acorn – the seed to more rapid hydrogen growth in the UK:

There is a compressed time window for the UK’s aviation industry to develop the ground infrastructure, safety standards (including how to use, control and transport hydrogen) and operational procedures needed to make the sector’s operations hydrogen-ready.

Project Acorn is designed to be a first step on this journey, with limited trials of GSE equipment accomplishing a key objective of receiving clearance for airside refuelling from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The safety assessments and emergency planning with local authorities that serve Bristol Airport will also provide invaluable learnings for future developments and serve as a blueprint for other local authorities. It will provide them with the necessary skills and resources to assist airports in making the transition to hydrogen.

A shorter-term objective for this project is to lead to the long-term or permanent deployment of hydrogen GSE at Bristol Airport. This will ready the airport for trials and then commercial operations of hydrogen-fuelled aircraft.

The many benefits of hydrogen in aviation:

Many leading experts believe hydrogen powered aviation will not only be pivotal in delivering net zero, but it will bring many economic benefits too.

The Department for Transport’s Jet Zero Strategy estimates that rapid investment in hydrogen aviation could provide upwards of 60,000 new jobs across the UK. Hydrogen UK projects that hydrogen could contribute £18bn GVA and help meet up to 50% of the UK’s energy requirements by 2050.

Green hydrogen, produced from renewables, is a particularly exciting alternative aircraft fuel as, unlike other alternatives, it produces no carbon emissions. If fully realised, it will aid significantly with the industry’s decarbonisation goals, while helping preserve an industry that provides significant value to our economy. The UK aviation employs 230,000 people and contributes more than £22bn directly to GDP per year, plus £34bn from exporting aerospace components.

The Jet Zero Council has projected in the strategy that rapid investment in hydrogen aviation could see the UK securing up to 19% global aerospace industry and share of a benefit valued at £178bn per annum in 2050. It means this could generate an additional £34bn per annum for the UK.

Investing in hydrogen will also help to preserve the social benefits of flying, continuing to connect people to business, loved ones and new destinations. 

The full article can be found here

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