Heathrow secures Government funding to develop net-zero aviation roadmap

The first phase of research will last until early 2022

The Airport confirmed today (18 February) that it has secured funding from Innovate UK, through the organisation’s Future Flight Challenge, for two sustainability-related projects.

Project NAPKIN (New Aviation Propulsion Knowledge and Innovation Network) is the first of these initiatives. The project is an R&D initiative which will combine expertise, data, insights and technologies from across the value chain to plot a national course to net-zero, assessing which technologies will play a role and when.

Organisations supporting Heathrow with Project NAPKIN include Oxford University, Cranfield University, Kings College London, NATS, SITA, Rolls Royce, The University of Southampton, Deloitte, UCL, London City Airport, Highlands and Islands Airports and IAG, the parent company of British Airways.

The second project is called Fly2Plan. It will investigate how emerging technologies like cloud infrastructure and blockchain could be used to collect and manage data from Heathrow Airport. The hope is the creation of a “decentralised, resilient and efficient operating model to support cross-company collaboration”. Such a model will be necessary if Heathrow is to scale up drones in line with the Government’s broader aviation innovation plans.

Heathrow has already begun the first stage of research for both projects. In both cases, this phase is due to last around 12 months more. The second phase will entail live demonstrations of key technologies and systems, alongside work to get businesses across the sector to adopt shared decarbonisation goals.

Innovate UK’s Future Flight Challenge is offering a total of £125m in Government grants. It has not disclosed what share of this funding will be allocated to Heathrow. Aside from reducing emissions, the aims of the Challenge are to create economic opportunities for new forms of air mobility (such as drones and air taxis) and safeguarding the UK’s international advantage in aerospace R&D.

“Heathrow has always served as a testbed for ground-breaking green technologies,” the Airport’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye said. “These concepts go further than ever before, with the potential to transform the role that aviation plays in Britain’s economy.

“The Future Flight Challenge has come at a critical time for the country and our industry. We’re proud to be driving forward with these disruptive initiatives in the year that the UK hosts COP26 and our industry builds back better, as we work to recover from the devastating impacts of this pandemic.”

National approach

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 initial 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.  

Pressure is mounting, however, for the Government to publish its net-zero roadmap. The framework will outline short and mid-term, sector-specific decarbonisation targets aligned with the long-term net-zero goal. It will also contain recommendations for the technologies and systems it intends to support most, and, as such, is expected to boost investor certainty. Ministers have promised the roadmap before COP26 begins and are being urged to ensure that it does not face delays, as has been the case for the Heat & Buildings Strategy, Hydrogen Strategy, Energy White Paper, National Infrastructure Strategy and Environment Bill.

Ministers are also being urged to include international aviation in the UK’s climate accounting framework and to cap growth in the sector – recommendations previously made by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

On the latter, the UK Government did not appeal a court decision to block a third runway at Heathrow, but the corporate owner of the airport did so successfully in December 2020. More recently, Leeds City Council approved plans to expand Leeds Bradford Airport earlier this week, in a move that disappointed many green groups.

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    Aircraft account for 6% of CO2, while shipping accounts for 4.5% and these figures could be halved by an international consortium producing engines that can run on paraffin oil based fuel mixed with water using an ultrasonic device to a ratio of 50% or more. This engine would have the added advantage of burning at a lower temperature so less cooling devices would be needed which would lead to a drop in the cost of engines; so another 5.25% can be saved.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie