Back in 2007, Jeremy Clarkson predicted that whoever leads the way when it comes to embracing hydrogen technology will be the richest person on Earth.
While this was a prediction about the fuel’s applicability in automobile market, 15 years on, detailed in a report released today, his prediction now has the most potential in the 2-wing market, rather than the 4 wheel.
A consortium including both London City and Heathrow, alongside manufacturers Rolls Royce, GKN and Cranfield Aerospace have today published a report that not only outlines how zero emission flying in the UK is possible this decade, but how it could replace kerosene altogether on domestic routes by 2040, with a potential upside nationwide demand of over 700,000 liquid tonnes.
City AM readers will be well aware of, and indeed supportive of, the challenge to decarbonise. And aviation, without question, is one of the most challenging sectors. But such is the key role it plays in connecting the global economy and people with places, it is likely to be one of the most rewarding.
Some might ask why hydrogen and why not electric, especially what has happened with the car market over the past decade. They might also ask why we have to wait for zero emission flying.
From a manufacturing point of view, hydrogen provides the closest form of operational continuity to what we enjoy today and, critically, provides the greatest range and payload potential. By way of example, the consortium predicts that 90 seat zero emission aircraft, capable of flying all over the UK and onto markets across Europe, could transform the way we fly by 2040.
Change, however, won’t happen overnight and to start reducing carbon emissions today we do also need the support of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, a proven technology that reduces carbon emission on average up to 70%, and can be used in existing aircraft without the need for technical modifications. We can then build on the success and increased usage of Sustainable Aviation Fuels, to support the rollout of hydrogen.
In terms of a timeline for zero emission flying, we do believe there is potential it can start to happen in the UK this decade, with Cranfield Aerospace seeing potential in operating a 19-seat aircraft on routes that connect the islands of the UK to the mainland, like Kirkwall to Inverness, from 2026.
Again, some may say we are not moving fast enough. But we believe this will herald the start of a revolution in aviation. Also, by starting at a small scale, it gives the industry time to learn, perfect processes and innovate on finding even better solutions.
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the transition to hydrogen flying will be its utility. For small airports and airfields, with limited operations, the infrastructure required will be limited, potentially breathing new life into assets looking for a role in the future, potentially even playing a role in better connecting the country.
But the real prize is in the scalability. And this directly benefits both London City and Heathrow. At LCY we have always been the innovators, from delivering one of the most innovative airports in the middle of the London Docklands, to having the first remote control tower. So, when it comes to future sustainable aviation we have the scale and short haul route network to begin the transition to zero emissions from 2035, giving business travellers in particular the option of connectivity that’s fast, efficient and carbon free.
For the country’s global hub, Heathrow, it can lead to a future where short haul, zero emission services, feed long haul services using sustainable aviation fuels. A dual solution, capable of offering low carbon, global connectivity. As hydrogen takes shape, sustainable aviation fuels are in use and cutting carbon today and need to be scaled this decade.
The whole country can benefit from the hydrogen revolution and London can be at the forefront of this charge, especially when you consider the ambitions of the maritime sector in the Thames Estuary and the potential to radically increase the number of hydrogen fuel cell buses operating across the Capital, to name just two projects.
The benefits of the transition can be wider still, with communities around Heathrow and London City benefiting from the creation of new, hydrogen focused research and development centres, employing hundreds and potentially thousands of Londoners as part of the green industrial revolution.
Given hydrogen’s potential in revolutionising transport in the UK, it is critical that Government sends a clear signal to UK based industries and investors on its commitment to creating a hydrogen economy.
This is why we need a reinvigorated and expanded National Hydrogen Strategy. It can establish the market conditions to create supply that meets demand, that enables investment into critical distribution networks, sets the UK on a course to embrace R&D opportunities and ensures we have the necessary skills across our workforce.
And while, even from the perspectives of airports that pre-pandemic served five million and 80 million passengers respectively, zero emission infrastructure and supply chain solutions are now emerging. Just as Jeremy Clarkson predicted there is an opportunity for partners reading this to invest today in technology that will mature and, potentially, deliver at meaningful scale through the 2030’s.
Technology and the collective will of the aviation industry, shows that decarbonisation is possible. But with real partnership with government and the investment community, change has the potential to be more meaningful and enduring. You can read the report here:http://www.heathrow.com/napkin