Cranfield University Awarded £69 Million to Scale Up Hydrogen Research Hub for Aviation

By March 26, 2024 8   min read  (1437 words)

March 26, 2024 |

2024 03 26 07 51 41 e1711455845210
  • Largest ever research funding win for Cranfield University
  • Investment heralds a ‘step change’ in hydrogen research, developing the first large scale hydrogen research hub at any UK airport
  • Funding will unlock technical challenges and scale-up hydrogen-enabled aviation to help meet net zero emissions targets

Cranfield University will spearhead the research and development of the first major hydrogen technology hub to demonstrate the potential of hydrogen as a net zero aviation fuel.

The £69 million investment creating the Cranfield Hydrogen Integration Incubator (CH2i) is the largest financial injection for research that Cranfield University has ever secured. £23 million comes from Research England’s Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), with a further £46 million committed from industry partners and academic institutions.

The demand for air travel is rising, with estimates that UK passenger traffic could increase from 284 million in 2016 to 435 million by 2050. Unless action is taken, aviation will be the largest source of carbon greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century. In this context, the rapid development and scale up of hydrogen-enabled aviation is a critical part of addressing growing demands whist transitioning to cleaner air transport. With domestic aviation set a target of achieving net zero emissions by 2040 in the UK government’s Jet Zero strategy, CH2i will support the aviation industry to explore how to move towards the use of hydrogen at scale.

“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 CBE FREng, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University.

“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. Working with research and industry partners nationally and internationally, we will unlock some of the most significant technical challenges around the future development and deployment of hydrogen in aviation. It’s a very exciting prospect for our researchers, partners and for the aviation industry. It will help to build the pathway to net zero emissions aviation.”

New hydrogen ecosystem to rapidly develop technology for a sustainable future

CH2i will create a unique ecosystem at Cranfield, connecting the production, integration and use of hydrogen for net zero aviation, proving how the industry can decarbonise rapidly.

The research collaboration, linking into a new Centre for Doctoral Training in Net Zero Aviation at Cranfield, will provide an environment to develop the production technologies, catalysts, materials, structures, storage tanks, aircraft designs and engines that are urgently required to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen in a net zero world. By developing new laboratories, at scale test facilities and airport infrastructure this project will deliver a transformation in hydrogen technologies.

Bringing together academia, industry, government and regulatory authorities, CH2i’s work will inform policies, services and regulatory practices that are needed to realise regional, national and international economic growth and skills development opportunities.

Co-Principal Investigator of CH2i, Professor Dame Helen Atkinson DBE FREng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the School for Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing and Materials: “The consortium will bring a ‘systems engineering’ approach, accelerating the integration of hydrogen into airports and aerospace propulsion and delivering next generation technologies. Together we are committed to unlocking hydrogen’s potential for airports and aviation globally, realising our collective ambitions for a more sustainable future.”

Investment to enable development across whole supply chain

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

Co-Principal Investigator of CH2i, Professor Chris Fogwill, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of School for Water, Energy and Environment at Cranfield University said: “We’re creating the blueprint for sustainable zero emissions flight and infrastructure, by building world-class laboratory and test facilities that integrate the production, storage and utilisation of hydrogen at scale across the campus and airport.”

CH2i will connect and expand existing facilities at Cranfield, supporting research and development across the whole supply chain from production, storage, transport and usage, through to assessment of the environmental impacts. CH2i will demonstrate where hydrogen can be integrated into both ground operations and as a fuel for aircraft propulsion.

CH2i will include three large infrastructure elements:

  1. Hydrogen Integration Research Centre– extending an existing facility, this will include new labs for advanced materials synthesis and testing for hydrogen-based technologies, analytical laboratories and a dedicated innovation area to develop next generation hydrogen pilot plant demonstration, electrolysis, catalyst development and green hydrogen.
  2. Enabling Hydrogen Innovation (Test Area)– investment into two separate test bed facilities, able to support hydrogen and liquid hydrogen activity, fuel systems, storage and propulsion system integration at mid- and high-technology readiness levels.
  3. Development of Cranfield Airport’sinfrastructure, increasing its capability for safe operation and testing of future demonstrator hydrogen-powered aviation.

The funding will also provide new equipment, project management and staffing to support the project.

Track record in safe developments for industrial use

“A key part of this initiative is achieving rapid innovation within a regulated, safety-critical context,” commented Professor Leon A. Terry, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Cranfield University.

“Cranfield has existing expertise in the production, storage and use of hydrogen in an industrial context, and a track record of building near-industrial scale facilities. This funding heralds a transformation in the hydrogen research trajectory, and our unique expertise and facilities puts Cranfield right at the centre of accelerating hydrogen development in the UK.”

Building capability for the UK and industry

Professor Sir Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University and a member of the UK Jet Zero Council, noted that new business opportunities will emerge: “CH2i is set to act as a global and regional incubator for sustainable aviation research and innovation. It builds on our strategic relationships with industry and will create an environment where we can openly explore how hydrogen innovations will change aviation. It will also stimulate new business opportunities across the aviation supply chain and help to provide a new talent pipeline of researchers to grow a competitive high technology capability for the UK.”

Marshall CEO Kathy Jenkins commented: “This investment in CH2i is a clear vote of confidence in Cranfield’s unique position as a scientific and industrial flagship for the UK. It demonstrates hydrogen’s transformative potential in aviation. As we continue to advance our strategic relationship with Cranfield, these test facilities will serve as an ideal proving ground for our newly established HyFIVE consortium. It is here we will develop globally outstanding hydrogen technologies and products that support clean growth and future mobility.”

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions CEO, Paul Hutton said: “CAeS welcomes the establishment of the CH2i hydrogen hub at Cranfield and is proud to be a major industrial partner in the programme. The investment will provide valuable facilities for our hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system development programme and we look forward to deepening our relationship with the Cranfield University team as we develop the technology needed for a more sustainable aviation industry.”

£1 billion investment since funding scheme began

The investment from Research England brings the total funding figure for the RPIF scheme to £1 billion since its inception. Cranfield is one of four universities to receive funding in this round.

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Executive Chair at Research England, said:“I am pleased to be able to award four more universities funding from our flagship UK Research Partnership Investment Fund to create four centres in a diverse range of topics, from net zero aviation to wound research, and disease therapies to future transport.

“The fact that we have been able to fund 60 research centres and facilities from the fund since 2012, investing £1 billion to tackle some of today’s biggest research challenges, from developing treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease to tackling global inequalities, and finding better treatments for cancer to net zero growth, is something I am immensely proud of.

“I very much look forward to seeing how these new facilities deliver against a variety of diverse challenges over the coming years.”

Project partners

Research and industry partners who are co-investors for the project include:

  • Marshall
  • Cranfield Aerospace Solutions
  • GKN Aerospace
  • Element 2
  • Hywaves
  • Toyota
  • GTI Energy
  • Siemens Energy
  • Heathrow Airport
  • Modular Clinton Global
  • Equilibrion

Academic partners include:

  • Imperial College London
  • Midlands Innovation Energy Research Accelerator (ERA)
  • UKRI NERC National Centre for Atmospheric Science
  • UK Aerospace Research Consortium
  • UK Collaboration for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC)
  • National Physical Laboratory (NPL)

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