Monday, February 26, 2024

First hydrogen-fueled gas turbine engine for light aircraft tested

The aviation industry is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. To address this challenge, many research projects are exploring different ways to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Some airplane and engine makers are researching ways to make existing powerplants run on Sustainable Aviation Fuel, which is already being adopted on a large scale. However, SAF is not entirely clean, and so some companies working on hydrogen-powered engines for aircraft are building their hardware from scratch, trying to come up with never-before-seen solutions. However, engine and rocket manufacturers Safran and turbine engine solutions firm Turbotech are taking a different approach.

Recently, the two companies have completed the first test of a hydrogen-fueled aero gas turbine engine with an ultra-high performance regenerative cycle. The test was made possible by ArianeGroup’s resources and expertise in hydrogen fuel testing for space applications at its Vernon test facility in France.

The tests are part of the BeautHyFuel project to explore hydrogen propulsion solutions for light airplanes. The first trial was conducted using hydrogen fuel stored in gaseous form, and a second phase is set to take place later this year. In this phase, the engine will be connected to a cryogenic liquid storage system developed by Air Liquide to demonstrate the end-to-end integration of a propulsion system that replicates all functions on a complete aircraft.

“This first experiment carried out using a Turbotech TP-R90 regenerative turboprop engine shows we can convert previously proven internal combustion technologies to create a working zero-carbon solution for general aviation,” said Damien Fauvet, CEO of Turbotech. “As we move to liquid hydrogen fuel, the aim is to offer a high energy-density propulsion system with real commercial applications. Our solution will be readily retrofittable on light airplanes and could have potential in other market segments.”

“This first stage of the project has already gone beyond our expectations,” said Pierre-Alain Lambert, VP of Hydrogen Programs for Safran. “Our objective was to validate the behavior of the engine and fuel control system at all phases, from engine start to full throttle, as well as strategies in the event of a failure. For Safran, this kind of small-scale investigation is really valuable because we can learn quickly and nimbly. It complements our other, larger-scale initiatives aimed at removing the barriers to hydrogen propulsion for air transport, such as our technology demonstration in partnership with CFM International as part of Airbus’s ZEROe program, supported by Clean Aviation. ArianeGroup’s expertise in hydrogen testing was decisive in the timely success of this crucial first step.”

The BeautHyFuel joint research project was formed in June 2022 by Turbotech, Elixir Aviation, Safran, Air Liquide, and Daher to design and test a hydrogen propulsion system for light aviation. The goal is to develop a methodology to certify the system for retrofit. The project benefits from the expertise of these companies in various areas, such as turbine technologies, aero-engine manufacturing, fuel system design, hydrogen storage, and aircraft development.

The French government and DGAC are supporting the project through France’s post-pandemic stimulus program. The BeautHyFuel project is part of Safran’s efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of air transport.