They test the first hydrogen-powered gas turbine engine for light aircraft

Isbel Lázaro.
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motor de turbina de gas

Some aircraft and engine manufacturers are investigating how to adapt existing engines to use sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which are already being adopted on a large scale. Despite this, these fuels are not completely clean, which motivates some companies dedicated to the development of hydrogen-powered aircraft engines to build their hardware from scratch, exploring innovative solutions.

However, Safran , a rocket and engine manufacturer, and Turbotech , a company specializing in turbine engine solutions, have chosen a different approach in this search.

Recently, both companies successfully carried out the first test of a hydrogen-powered aeronautical gas turbine engine , employing a regenerative cycle with exceptionally high performance. The completion of this test was possible thanks to the resources and experience of ArianeGroup, specialized in testing hydrogen fuel for space applications, at its testing facilities located in Vernon, France.

Gas turbine engine testing

These tests are an integral part of the BeautHyFuel project, aimed at exploring hydrogen propulsion solutions for light aircraft. The first phase of testing was carried out using hydrogen fuel stored in gaseous form, and a second phase is projected to take place later this year. In this additional stage, the engine will be connected to a cryogenic liquid storage system developed by Air Liquide, with the purpose of demonstrating the complete integration of a propulsion system that reproduces all the functions present in a complete aircraft.

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This first experiment carried out using a Turbotech TP-R90 regenerative turboprop engine shows that we can convert previously proven internal combustion technologies to create a functional zero-carbon solution for general aviation ,” said Damien Fauvet, CEO of Turbotech. “As we move towards liquid hydrogen fuel, the goal is to deliver a high energy density propulsion system with real commercial applications. Our solution can be easily adapted to light aircraft and could have potential in other market segments”.

This first stage of the project has already exceeded our expectations ,” said Pierre-Alain Lambert, vice president of hydrogen programs at Safran. “Our objective was to validate the behavior of the engine and the fuel control system in all phases, from engine start to maximum acceleration, as well as strategies in case of failure. For Safran, this type of small-scale research is really valuable because we can learn quickly and agilely. It complements our other larger-scale initiatives aimed at removing barriers to hydrogen propulsion for air transport, such as our technology demonstration in partnership with CFM International as part of the Airbus ZEROe programme, supported by Clean Aviation. ArianeGroup’s experience in hydrogen testing was instrumental in the timely success of this crucial first step”.

It is important to note that in June 2022, the BeautHyFuel research collaboration, a joint project between Turbotech, Elixir Aviation, Safran, Air Liquide and Daher, was established with the purpose of designing and evaluating a hydrogen propulsion system intended for aviation. light. The goal is to develop a methodology for system certification, facilitating its implementation and modernization. This project is enriched by the diversified experience of these companies in areas ranging from turbine technologies and aerospace engine manufacturing to fuel system design, hydrogen storage and aircraft development.

Support for the project comes from the French government and the DGAC, who are backing the initiative through France’s post-pandemic stimulus program. BeautHyFuel is integrated into Safran’s efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions associated with air transportation.

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