EasyJet hails first-ever hydrogen-fuel trial at Bristol airport

EasyJet and Bristol airport have completed a ground-breaking trial in the use of hydrogen in aviation with the first airside hydrogen-refuelling trial at a major UK airport.

The hydrogen was used to refuel and power parts of easyJet’s ground operation at Bristol, demonstrating the fuel can be used safely and reliably at an airport.

Data and insight from the trial will be used to create the first-ever safety guidance on hydrogen use at airports and inform creation of a regulatory framework.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) played an active role in the trial to review the safety case. The trial also aims to accelerate the use of hydrogen more widely.

Dubbed Project Acorn, the trial saw hydrogen used to refuel and power baggage tractors, or ground support equipment (GSE), servicing easyJet passenger aircraft as part of the airline’s daily operations, demonstrating the gas can be safely used to refuel ground equipment in a live airport environment.

The project was in development for more than a year and involved organisations across aviation, engineering, logistics and academia including Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, Cranfield University, and the IAAPS research institute at the University of Bath.

The results will help develop industry best practice and guidance for airports, airlines, local authorities and regulators on the infrastructure changes required, as well as support development of a regulatory framework for hydrogen’s use on an airfield – standards which do not currently exist.

EasyJet chief operating officer David Morgan said: “Without doubt hydrogen will be an important fuel of the future for short-haul aviation.

“[But] while the technology is advancing at an exciting pace, there is no regulatory guidance in place on how hydrogen can and should be used, so trials like this are important in building the safety case and providing critical data and insight to inform development of the industry’s first regulatory framework.”

CAA director for strategy, policy and communications Tim Johnson said: “Projects such as this are cornerstones of our commitment to support innovation and decarbonisation in the industry.

“This trial will serve as the basis of a White Paper which we will be contributing to, as well as allow for the creation of safety guidance and regulatory standards for the use of hydrogen in aviation.”

Aviation minister Anthony Browne added: “Project Acorn is a great example of the UK aviation sector pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, using leading engineering to make decarbonisation a reality.”

A joint statement on the trail by the Project Acorn partners noted: “There is a compressed time window for the UK’s aviation industry to develop the ground infrastructure, safety standards – including how to use, control and transport hydrogen – and procedures needed to make operations hydrogen-ready.

“Project Acorn is designed to be a first step on this journey, with limited trials of GSE equipment accomplishing a key objective of receiving clearance for airside refuelling from the CAA.

“A shorter-term objective is to lead to the long-term deployment of hydrogen GSE at Bristol and ready the airport for trials of hydrogen-fuelled aircraft.”

Hydrogen is a potential zero carbon emission fuel source for aviation.

Green hydrogen, produced from renewables, is potentially the most exciting alternative aircraft fuel as, unlike other alternatives, it produces no carbon emissions.

Dr Thomas Budd of Cranfield University said: “Projects like this help demonstrate to government, industry and the travelling public that we can use hydrogen safely and efficiently in an airport environment.”

Partners on the project included innovation accelerator Connected Places Catapult (CPC), logistics group DHL Supply Chain, consultancies Fuel Cell Systems and Jacobs, airport ground support manufacturer Mulag, and GSE supplier TCR.

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