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Rolls-Royce and easyJet today have set a new aviation milestone with the world’s first modern aero engine run on hydrogen.

easyJet and Rolls-Royce's ground-breaking partnership is pioneering the development of hydrogen combustion engine technology capable of powering a range of aircraft, including those in the narrow-body market segment. The objective of the partnership is to demonstrate that hydrogen has the potential to power a range of aircraft from the mid-2030s onwards.

Rolls-Royce is bringing its expertise in engine development and combustion systems, and easyJet is contributing its operational knowledge and experience and will directly investing in the test programme.

The ground test was conducted on an early concept demonstrator using green hydrogen created by wind and tidal power. It marks a major step towards proving that hydrogen could be a zero carbon aviation fuel of the future and is a key proof point in the decarbonisation strategies of both Rolls-Royce and easyJet.

Both companies have set out to prove that hydrogen can safely and efficiently deliver power for civil aero engines and are already planning a second set of tests, with a longer-term ambition to carry out flight tests.

The test took place at an outdoor test facility at MoD Boscombe Down, UK, using a converted Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A regional aircraft engine. Green hydrogen for the tests was supplied by EMEC (European Marine Energy Centre), generated using renewable energy at their hydrogen production and tidal test facility on Eday in the Orkney Islands, UK.

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Grant Shapps, said: “The UK is leading the global shift to guilt-free flying, and today’s test by Rolls-Royce and easyJet is an exciting demonstration of how business innovation can transform the way we live our lives.

“This is a true British success story, with the hydrogen being used to power the jet engine today produced using tidal and wind energy from the Orkney Islands of Scotland – and is a prime example of how we can work together to make aviation cleaner while driving jobs across the country.”

Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer, Rolls-Royce, said: “The success of this hydrogen test is an exciting milestone. We only announced our partnership with easyJet in July and we are already off to an incredible start with this landmark achievement. We are pushing the boundaries to discover the zero carbon possibilities of hydrogen, which could help reshape the future of flight.”

Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, said: “This is a real success for our partnership team. We are committed to continuing to support this ground-breaking research because hydrogen offers great possibilities for a range of aircraft, including easyJet-sized aircraft. That will be a huge step forward in meeting the challenge of net zero by 2050.”

Following analysis of this early concept ground test, the partnership plans a series of further rig tests leading up to a full-scale ground test of a Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 jet engine.

The partnership is inspired by the global, UN-backed Race to Zero campaign that both companies have signed up to, committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

"We are pioneers of power and our new hydrogen programme puts us in a great position to pave the way to make hydrogen and hybrid-electric systems a reality. Combined with our work on Sustainable Aviation Fuel and further gas turbine efficiency, we are making real progress on the hard yards of research and development towards making Net Zero flight a reality.” - Chris Cholerton, President Civil Aerospace, Rolls-Royce

“In order to achieve net zero by 2050, we have always said that radical action is needed to address aviation’s climate impact. That’s why today, we partnering with Rolls-Royce. The technology that emerges from this programme has the potential to power easyJet-size aircraft, which is why we will are making a multi-million pound investment into this programme. In order to achieve decarbonisation at scale, progress on the development of zero emission technology for narrowbody aircraft is crucial. Together with Rolls-Royce we look forward to leading the industry to tackle this challenge head-on.” - Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet.

“We already have work underway on the adaptation of gas turbines to burn hydrogen, as well as land-based projects. We are keen to discuss with aircraft manufacturers how our pioneering innovation can support new aircraft projects.” - Alan Newby, Director, Aerospace Technology and Future Programmes, Rolls-Royce

Hydrogen-powered flight

Hydrogen can be a source of electrical power or used as a direct fuel for aircraft.

The last 20-years have seen several demonstrator aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Our research shows that hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to be a substitute for electric batteries in power hybrid or all-electric small commuter aircraft, where they can offer greater energy storage and faster refuelling. There are, however many technology challenges to overcome before these systems are commercially available. Hydrogen fuel cells will probably be limited to medium to low power applications where the power requirements are lower.

While hydrogen can also be used directly as a fuel in a gas turbine, it is likely to start in the shorter haul segments, where the aircraft range is shorter. Given volume limitations attached to the storage of hydrogen and the limited power density of fuel cells, for long range, SAF fuelling gas turbines will remain the most likely solution moving forward. Hydrogen will offer options in shorter range segments and has the potential to progress onto larger segments, as the technology is proven and hydrogen fuel becomes more readily available. To support this, Rolls Royce is investigating the feasibility of hydrogen-burning gas turbine engines, whilst continuing to promote SAF as the more mature technology.


About Rolls-Royce Holdings plc

Rolls-Royce pioneers the power that matters to connect, power and protect society. We have pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations by 2030 (excluding product testing) and joined the UN Race to Zero campaign in 2020, affirming our ambition to play a fundamental role in enabling the sectors in which we operate achieve net zero carbon by 2050. Rolls-Royce has customers in more than 150 countries, comprising more than 400 airlines and leasing customers, 160 armed forces and navies, and more than 5,000 power and nuclear customers. Annual underlying revenue was £10.95 billion in 2021, underlying operating profit was £414m and we invested £1.18 billion on research and development. We also support a global network of 28 University Technology Centres, which position Rolls-Royce engineers at the forefront of scientific research.

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About easyJet

easyJet is Europe’s leading airline offering a unique and winning combination of the best route network connecting Europe's primary airports with great value fares and friendly service. The airline joined the UN Race to Zero campaign in November 2021 and has recently published its roadmap to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with a focus on new technology, such as hydrogen, and the ultimate ambition to achieve zero carbon emission flying across its entire fleet, which the airline is working on together with its partners including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, GKN Aerospace and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions. The roadmap also features a combination of fleet renewal, operational efficiencies, airspace modernisation, Sustainable Aviation Fuel and carbon removal technology. Additionally, it includes an interim carbon emissions intensity reduction target of 35% by 2035. Since 2000, easyJet has already reduced its carbon emissions per passenger, per kilometre by one-third.

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