Government unveils £85m package to support low-carbon aviation innovations

Image: ZeroAvia

Of the £84.6m of funding, delivered through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), half is being provided by the central government and half is being provided by industry.

The bulk of the funding (more than 60%) is being allocated to GKN Aerospace-led project H2GEAR, which is developing a liquid hydrogen propulsion system that could be used for regional air travel. A second hydrogen plane project, ZeroAvia, is receiving around one-third of the funding to develop and demonstrate a 19-seater aircraft.  

ZeroAvia believes that it will be able to deliver commercial flights using its zero-emissions aircraft by the end of 2023.

The final beneficiary of the funding round is Blue Bear Systems’ InCEPTion project, which is developing a fully electrified propulsion system for aircraft. The company claims that its technology would be ideal for short-distance journeys, including those within the same city or region, making it ideal for taxi-like services.

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), some 4,750 jobs could be supported through the new investments.

Air taxis and drones

Separately, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has selected a project seeking to develop the UK’s first ‘Urban Air Port’ for air taxis and autonomous delivery drones to secure funding, under its Future Flight Challenge.

The developers of Urban Air Port Air One claim it could launch as soon as this year at its Coventry base. The base will play host to electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and related charging infrastructure. Hyundai Motor Group has been chosen as the priority infrastructure partner for the scheme, as it is already developing eVTOL aircraft and hopes to launch them commercially in the coming years. The drone partner, meanwhile, is UK-based developer Malloy Aeronautics, and the research partner is Coventry University.

According to the project partners, eVTOL aircraft for urban mobility “reduce congestion, cut air pollution and holistically decarbonise transport while providing seamless passenger journeys and deliveries”.

Broader approach, deeper challenges

Business Minister Paul Scully said the sub-sectors supported by the new funding packages “could pave the way to technological advances that will allow the industry to build back better and greener following the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Pre-pandemic, the aviation sector contributed at least £14bn to national GDP – but it was also a hard-to-abate and fast-growing source of emissions. The UK Government’s vision for creating a green recovery for the sector, beyond the ATI funding, also involves a ‘Jet Zero Council’ – a coalition of Ministers, businesses, trade bodies and environmental groups mapping the technologies that will be needed to get the sector to net-zero. It has additionally earmarked £200m from Treasury coffers and £200m from the industry for projects developing SAF, energy-efficient electric aircraft components, high-performance engines and wing designs intended to minimise fuel consumption.  

However, the Government and industry giants last year rubbished the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations to cap growth in the sector and to add emissions from international aviation to the carbon accounting process. This move has been widely criticised by green campaigners. MPs had also been hoping for more support for SAF. A major blow to the UK’s SAF pipeline came earlier this month, when Shell exited a collaborative initiative around Velocys’ waste-to-jet-fuel project.

Sarah George

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