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July 20, 2024
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UPDATE – Rolls-Royce is stepping up its efforts to develop an aero engine that can run on hydrogen. The UK airframer will start ground testing hydrogen on two existing engines, with the long-term aim to have a powerplant for small to medium-sized aircraft available by the mid-2030s. Rolls-Royce announced the news ahead of the Farnborough Airshow, which kicks off today July 18. Rolls-Royce launches hydrogen research program.

Rolls-Royce has already done tests with hydrogen combustion, which has different characteristics to that of burning conventional kerosene or sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The tests have been done in partnership with Loughborough University, German Aerospace Center DLR, and Cranfield University.

The ground tests scheduled for later this year are planned on two different, existing engines. The first is the AE2100, which in different iterations powers the Lockheed Martin C130J transporter, the Alenia C-27J airlifter, and the Japanese ShinMaya US-2 amphibious aircraft. The second engine type used as a testbed will be the Pearl 15, which powers the Bombardier Global 5500 and 6500 business jets. Rolls-Royce is considering “a range of location options”, but tests will definitely take place at its facility in Mississippi.

Rolls-Royce says that the market potential for a hydrogen powerplant has recently been confirmed by two studies, the FlyZero study by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and Project NAPKIN (New Aviation Propulsion Knowledge and Innovation Network). FlyZero outlined three concepts of hydrogen-powered airliners and the technology roadmap to get there.

The OEM is one of ten partners in this program that looked at establishing a blueprint for zero emissions in aviation. The interest of the airline industry in hydrogen is also confirmed by the partnership between Rolls-Royce and low-cost airline easyJet, who collaborate on the hydrogen infrastructure required for operating hydrogen airliners, as explained by Directo of Flight Operations David Morgan (now Chief Operational Officer) to AirInsight. Rolls-Royce and easyJet are set to announce more on this in a media event in Farnborough on Tuesday. Last November, we discussed the Rolls-Royce net zero roadmap with ten Chief Technology Officer Paul Stein. 

Partnership with Hyundai on the AAM market

In another media statement on Monday, Rolls-Royce and Hyundai Motor Group of Korea announced that they will collaborate on the development of all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology for the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) market. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed at the Supernal booth, where Hyundai has a full-size cabin of its eVTOL vehicle on display that should be available from 2028. 

Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East (left) and Euisun Chung Executive Chair of Hyundai Motor Group. (Rolls-Royce)

The MoU includes collaboration on the technology development and requirements of power and propulsion systems for Hyundai’s Advanced Air Mobility Division, and the collaboration on the industrialization of Rolls-Royce power and propulsion systems for the
Advanced Air Mobility market. The two companies will also develop electric propulsion systems based upon hydrogen fuel cells as an energy source for Hyundai’s RAM platforms and collaborate on bringing to market a joint fuel-cell electric propulsion system to the wider AAM market. The plan is to deliver a joint fuel-cell electric aircraft demonstration by 2025.

Hybrid-electric programs

The hydrogen program confirms Rolls-Royce’s commitment to net zero aviation. The OEM is already very actively developing hybrid-electric propulsion systems with the Power Generation Systems 1 demonstrator, which is based on the AE2100 engine combined with dedicated control and thermal management systems. Rolls has run the program on testbeds in Bristol and Trondheim (Norway), in which it demonstrated a 1.5 MW capability. In the next phase, the engine maker wants to offer a production version of the PSG1 to airframers. It is in discussion with them about requirements and technical specifications.

Rolls-Royce is, of course, also actively involved with full-electric propulsion, developing a 320kW motor that will power the Tecnam’s Volt 11-seater aircraft and which will be offered later to Norwegian regional airline Wideroe for use on its regional fleet. In February, Rolls-Royce, Wideroe, and Embraer announced a partnership for a study on zero-emission regional aircraft. The study will be completed by early 2023.

The Rolls-Royce turbogenerator was unveiled in June. (Rolls-Royce)

At the ILA Berlin airshow in June, Rolls-Royce unveiled plans to develop turbogenerator technology that can be used as a small hybrid-electric engine on Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) eVTOL vehicles. The engine will have a power range of 500 kW to 1.200 kW, giving eVTOLs more range as the turbogenerator recharges the batteries after take-off or power the propellers The turbogenerator is developed by teams in Germany as part of a German-funded research program, with input from specialists from Norway and Hungary. Rolls-Royce is already involved in the UAM market as a technical partner of Vertical Aerospace for the VX4 eVTOL vehicle


In a further update, Rolls-Royce said that the first UltraFan engine UF001 has entered the final build in Derby and will start its first tests – on 100-percent SAF – later this year on Testbed 80. The technology demonstrator includes many new technologies, including a new core that is based on the Advance3 demonstrator, a lean-burn combustion system developed under ALECsys, carbon-titanium fan blades, a composite fan casing, plus various parts made from carbon-matrix composite. UltraFan is the first commercial Rolls-Royce engine with a power gearbox alike the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan.

UltraFan was in the race to power Boeing’s New Mid-sized Aircraft until Rolls-Royce withdrew its offer in 2019, citing the conflicting time schedule for the engine and the aircraft. In early 2020, Boeing put the new aircraft on hold.


author avatar
Richard Schuurman
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016. Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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