easyJet trials hydrogen refuelling at Bristol Airport in ‘UK first’

Project Acorn involved refuelling and powering the baggage tractors servicing easyJet passenger aircraft.

The trial, dubbed Project Acorn, involved refuelling and powering the baggage tractors servicing easyJet passenger aircraft, as part of the airline’s daily operations.

The successful completion of the pilot suggests that hydrogen gas can be safely and reliably used to refuel ground equipment, enabling airlines to transition to more sustainable fuels and reduce their carbon footprint.

The pilot was delivered in collaboration with several 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.

easyJet’s chief operating officer David Morgan 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.”

The group of organisations aims to help develop industry standards and regulatory frameworks for hydrogen’s use on airfields while providing guidance to airports, airlines, local authorities and regulators to effectively use the technology.

The standards for hydrogen do not currently exist due to it being a nascent technology. Businesses in the aviation industry have urged the UK Government to develop strategic plans for commercialising hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes.

The data and insights from the pilot will feed into groups that are conducting research to ensure UK infrastructure regulations and policies can effectively support low-carbon technologies and help the sector decarbonise.

UK Aviation Minister Anthony Browne said: “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.”

The Jet Zero Strategy

In 2022, the Government published its Jet Zero Strategy, committing the international aviation and the domestic aviation sectors to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and 2040 respectively, and for all airports in England to be zero-emission by the same year.

Aviation and shipping account for 10% of UK emissions, with aviation taking up the lion’s share.

Earlier this month, the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) urged the Government to hold the aviation sector accountable for delivering its promised emissions reductions.

The Government has stated that it will consider if measures designed to reduce demand for flights are needed in the future to meet its net-zero targets in case the sector is unable to reduce its footprint based on fuel efficiencies.

Comments (1)

  1. Douglas Blackwell says:

    Aptly named you have to start somewhere, the baggage tractor, hell of a breakthrough.
    The Hydrogen source is not mentioned, neither the colour as is the normal practice now, it’s getting categorised as Low Carbon what happened to “Green Hydrogen?”
    Oh, wait a minute I think I can smell “Green Washing” Especially when you’re talking Short Haul flights, which is a totally different magnitude to Airside Operation’s.
    Onsite Electrolysers will be a common factor to all airport infrastructures in the next few years, powered by onsite renewable generation using Solar PV and Energy Storage Systems.
    After all, why would any decarbonisation pathways include the use of energy from a dirty grid regardless of how much UK wind mixes with the thermal generation, imported from eastern Europe, Oh wait its low carbon!

    Douglas Blackwell

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