University of Birmingham to partner with GKN Aerospace in developing hydrogen propulsion system for aircraft

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The University of Birmingham is a partner in a ground-breaking £54 million UK collaboration programme, led by GKN Aerospace, to develop the company’s first hydrogen propulsion system for sub-regional aircraft.

Called H2GEAR, the programme puts GKN Aerospace at the heart of the technology developments needed for the future of more sustainable aviation. The technology will first focus on significantly improving sub-regional aircraft hydrogen powered performance, in turn enabling applications on larger aircraft and longer journeys. The programme is supported by £27M of ATI (Aerospace Technology Institute) funding, matched by GKN Aerospace and its industrial partners.

Hydrogen is expected to play a key role in the decarbonisation strategy of aviation as it can power aircraft efficiently, leaving water as the only by-product.

Within the H2GEAR programme, liquid hydrogen is being converted to electricity within a fuel cell system which uses technology developed at the University of Birmingham. This electricity efficiently powers the aircraft, eliminating CO2 emissions. This would create a new generation of clean air travel, eliminating harmful CO2 emissions.

H2GEAR will reinforce the UK’s position at the forefront of aerospace technology research and development. GKN Aerospace will collaborate with Intelligent Energy, Aeristech, Newcastle University, the University of Manchester as well as the University of Birmingham, throughout the programme, aiming to create more than 3,000 jobs in the next decade. The programme will be delivered from GKN Aerospace’s Global Technology Centre in Bristol, the company’s £32M brand-new collaborative space for research and development.

Professor Robert Steinberger-Wilckens, of the Birmingham Energy Institute, says: "I am very happy that the fuel cell technology we have been developing at University of Birmingham is finding its place as a key element in electric flight. We will be offering considerable increases in power density and reduced weight, in an attempt at making fuel cell systems a viable option for zero emission air travel. We are excited that our group has been recognised as a key technology provider and will be forging a new link between the Birmingham Energy Institute and Midlands Energy Research Accelerator with the field of aerospace R&D."

Russ Dunn, Chief Technology Officer for GKN Aerospace, said: “Hydrogen-powered aircraft offer a clear route to keep the world connected, with dramatically cleaner skies. The UK is at the forefront of this technology, and the H2GEAR project is an example of industry, academia and Government collaboration at its best. Working with our partners, and made possible by Government investment, GKN Aerospace will develop and industrialise the breakthrough technology to fly aircraft with zero CO2 emissions by the mid-2020s. This will not only create thousands of jobs, but it will keep the UK at the forefront of the next generation of cleaner air travel for decades to come.”

GKN Aerospace will use its long term experience and in-depth knowledge of electrical power systems and propulsion technology to accelerate the development of technology. The entry-into- service of the first hydrogen-powered aircraft could be as early as 2026.

Notes to Editor:

About the University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

The Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research at the University of Birmingham will work on the future aviation fuel cell stack concept. The future stack will be based on the Novel Intermediate Temperature Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell (IT-PEFC) technology being developed at University of Birmingham. The IT-PEFC stack will offer an increase in power density, improved performance and simplified balance of plant.

The School of Chemical Engineering and the University of Birmingham hosts the UK’s leading Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research. The centre is an integral part of the Birmingham Energy Institute and Energy Research Accelerator. Throughout the last decade, the significant contribution of the Centre towards the scientific and technology advancements in fuel cell and hydrogen research has been demonstrated through over 200 peer reviewed publications, and many contributions to international conferences. More than 50 highly trained graduates from the Centre have moved on to work in the field with industrial and academic institutions.

About GKN Aerospace

GKN Aerospace is the world’s leading multi-technology tier 1 aerospace supplier. As a global company serving the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers, GKN Aerospace develops, builds and supplies an extensive range of advanced aerospace systems, components and technologies– for use in aircraft ranging from helicopters and business jets to the most used single aisle aircraft and the largest passenger planes in the world. Lightweight composites, additive manufacturing, innovative engine systems and smart transparencies help to reduce emissions and weight on the aircraft and enhance passenger comfort. GKN Aerospace is market leading in aerostructures, engine systems, transparencies and wiring systems and operates in 14 countries at 48 manufacturing locations employing approximately 17,000 people.

For further information on this release please contact:  Marianne Mulder, Digital Communications and Media Manager, GKN Aerospace, mobile: +31 6 51311217.

About H2GEAR partners:

Intelligent Energy (IE) will create new and innovative IP, know-how, skills and capabilities in the field of lightweighted fuel-cell stacks (utilising new materials, coatings and processes) and systems configured for zero emission flight propulsion requirements. These will be exploited through development by IE, and IE's supply chain, of new fuel cell products and services in aviation application.

Media Enquiries: Debbie Hughes, mobile: +44 (0)7885 879741

About Aeristech

Aeristech was founded in 2006 and is a leading designer of advanced electric motor and control systems, winning the Queen's Award for Enterprise: Innovation in 2020. Aeristech’s technology enables it to manufacture the world’s fastest accelerating and most power dense permanent magnet variable speed electric motors, which are ideal for applications where efficiency, power density and speed are essential. Its Leamington Spa headquarters feature laboratories, pilot production and test facilities.

Media Enquiries: Hoda Awad – Madano, tel: +44  (0)20 7593 4014

Partner quotes

David Woolhouse, CEO at Intelligent Energy, said: “We have a very exciting programme of work over the next few years, including developing leading lightweight fuel cell modules for aerospace. This programme will see us develop the next generation of fuel cell technology and supports the growth of manufacturing right here in the East Midlands.  We are planning to increase our manufacturing capability with a new state-of-the-art Gigafactory facility in the region, positioning the East Midlands as a centre of hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing in the UK. The entry-into-service of the first hydrogen-powered aircraft could be as early as 2026.”

Duncan Kerr, CEO of Aeristech, said: “This is a truly ground-breaking programme for hydrogen technology, bringing together some of the UK’s most established organisations for a cutting edge clean aviation solution. Aeristech’s world leading power dense and efficient compressor technology will play a vital role in powering GKN Aerospace’ first hydrogen propulsion system, helping to bring hydrogen-powered air travel closer to reality.”