MIAMI – GKN Aerospace and key technological and academic heads have gathered in the UK to revolutionize aviation propulsion.

The project maintains GKN Aerospace’s position at the forefront of next generation of sustainable aircraft technology. Thus, a US$74m (£54m) collaborative technological program aims to advance hydrogen technology and accelerate aerospace de-carbonisation to zero emissions.

The public-private investment and collaboration aims to create more than 3,000 UK roles. For instance, ATI will finance US$37m (£27m) to this program, which was matched by GKN Aerospace and its industrial partners. The program will benefit from GKN’s long-term expertise and in-depth knowledge of electric power systems as well as propulsion technology.

Image: GKN Aerospace

Gears to H2GEAR

GKN will lead this UK’s pioneering Program, H2GEAR, while seeking to establish its first hydrogen propulsion system for sub-regional aircraft. Hydrogen is a key to sustainable aviation, as it powers aircraft efficiently and leaves water as the only by-product.

The H2GEAR intends to build a liquid hydrogen propulsion system and it will scale it up in future. To clarify, a fuel cell converts liquid hydrogen into electricity. The electricity drives the aircraft effectively, thus eliminating CO2 emissions. This will create a new wave of clean air transport free of toxic emissions.

The H2GEAR places GKN Aerospace at the center of the technological advances needed for sustainable aviation. First of all, the technology would concentrate on improving efficiency of sub-regional aircraft. Next is to allow applications of the technology on larger aircraft and longer journeys. The entry into operation of the first hydrogen powered aircraft may be as early as 2026.

H2GEAR ultimate goal is to deepen the UK’s level at the forefront of aerospace research and development. Therefore, the initiative will see GKN’s collaboration with technological and academic Partners. Consequently, Intelligent Energy (IE), Aeristech, Newcastle University, University of Manchester and University of Birmingham will create over 3,000 jobs within the next decades.

The GKN manages this program from its Global Technology Center in Bristol, the company’s brand-new collaborative research and development center.

Photo: GKN Aerospace

GKN’s Vision

Cited in a press release, 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.

Dunn added, “Working with our partners, and made possible by Government investment, GKN Aerospace will develop and industrialize 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’s Facilities. Photo: GKN Aerospace

Technological Partners

IE will develop latest and advanced IP, know-how, technical expertise and capabilities in lightweight fuel cell batteries. It will utilize new materials, coatings, processes and systems configured to meet requirements for zero emission propulsion systems.

David Woolhouse, CEO at IE, 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.” 

Woolhouse added, “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.”

Established in 2006, Aeristech is a pioneering manufacturer of innovative electric motor and control systems. Importantly the firm received the Queen’s Enterprise Award: Innovation in 2020. Above all, It is capable of developing the world’s fastest accelerated and most efficient permanent magnet variable speed electric motors. This motor is suitable for applications where efficiency, power density, and speed are vital parameters.

Duncan Kerr, CEO of Aeristech, said, “This is a truly ground-breaking program for hydrogen technology, bringing together some of the UK’s most established organizations 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.”

Academic Partners

Newcastle is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities in the UK. Its academics sharply focuses on responding to the major challenges facing society today. The University ranked 16th in the UK’s The Science Excellence Structure 2014 (REF) for Research Strength. Moreover, the University manages to direct the vast majority of research into world-leading or globally outstanding levels.

University of Manchester has a world-class reputation visionary power grid research and transport electrification. Certainly H2GER aims to develop liquid hydrogen technology to establish novel concepts to make highly efficient zero emission propulsion a reality.

The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research Center at the University of Birmingham is UK’s first aviation fuel cell stack. In addition, The university patented a novel technology called Intermediate Temperature Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell (IT-PEFC). It has improved density of power, greater productivity and a simpler combination of plants.

Featured image: GKN Aerospace