Cranfield University is to deepen its research into hydrogen as a sustainable aviation fuel, following its biggest ever grant win.

A £69 million injection will create the Cranfield Hydrogen Integration Incubator (CH2i).  £23 million comes from Research England, and the rest from industry partners and academic institutions.

Demand for air travel is rising. For UK passengers alone, estimates of 50% growth to 435 million by 2050 will risk breaching the government’s aviation target, its ‘Jet Zero’ goal of no net emissions a decade earlier.  No action risks leaving aviation as Britain’s largest source of carbon emissions by mid-century.

Cranfield’s CH2i will support the aviation industry to explore how to move towards the use of carbon-light hydrogen at scale.

Interest is already strong. Companies trialling the gas either as a fuel or in electricity generation range from Dale Vince’s planned EcoJet carrier to giants SW Airlines and BP.  A Cranfield offshoot is assisting Britten-Norman convert its Islander turbo-prop to hydrogen operation.

“This game-changing investment builds on Cranfield’s expertise in hydrogen research and will help the aviation industry to make the leap to using hydrogen,” said Professor Karen Holford, Cranfield’s Vice-Chancellor.

“CH2i will integrate with other large industry research areas at Cranfield including our novel hydrogen production programmes and our Aerospace Integration Research Centre and the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre.

The new body CH2i will cover

  • An extended research centre, with new labs making advanced materials and testing hydrogen-based technologies. A dedicated innovation area will develop pilot demonstrators for next generation electrolysis, catalyst development and green hydrogen.
  • Two separate test beds , able to support hydrogen and liquid hydrogen fuel systems, storage and propulsion system integration, including at high-readiness for commercial deployment

As Europe’s only university with its own airport, including air traffic control facilities, Cranfield has a controlled airside environment which can demonstrate, test and advance new technologies, systems and processes at scale.

One research collaboration will link into a new Centre for Doctoral Training in Net Zero Aviation at Cranfield. It will provide an environment to develop aircraft designs, production technologies, engines materials, structures, storage tanks, urgently required to speed hydrogen take-up in flight.   Input into airline practice and governments’ policies will also follow.


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