£69 Million Funding Secured for Hydrogen Aviation Research at Cranfield University

Cranfield University has been allocated to lead the establishment of a significant hydrogen technology hub aimed at demonstrating hydrogen’s viability as a net-zero aviation fuel. The project, named the Cranfield Hydrogen Integration Incubator (CH2i), benefits from a £69 million investment, marking the most substantial research funding in the university’s history. This financial package includes £23 million from Research England’s Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) and an additional £46 million from industry and academic partners.

This initiative addresses the anticipated rise in air travel demand, projecting an increase in UK passenger traffic from 284 million in 2016 to 435 million by 2050, and the potential for aviation to become a leading source of carbon emissions by 2050. The CH2i aims to support the aviation industry’s shift towards hydrogen fuel, aligning with the UK government’s Jet Zero strategy for net-zero emissions in domestic aviation by 2040.

Professor Karen Holford CBE FREng, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University, stated that the investment would utilise Cranfield’s existing capabilities in hydrogen research to assist the aviation sector’s transition to hydrogen. CH2i will work in conjunction with Cranfield’s aerospace and hydrogen production research units to address key technical challenges related to hydrogen’s aviation applications.

The incubator is designed to foster a hydrogen ecosystem at Cranfield, aimed at facilitating the aviation industry’s decarbonisation. By engaging academia, industry, and regulatory bodies, CH2i will accelerate the development of technologies essential for net-zero aviation, including advancements in laboratories, testing facilities, and airport infrastructure.

Professor Dame Helen Atkinson DBE FREng outlined the consortium’s approach to integrate hydrogen into aerospace propulsion and airport operations systematically. This effort is directed towards leveraging hydrogen for sustainable aviation practices on a global scale.

Cranfield’s unique position as the only European university with its own airport and air traffic control facilities allows CH2i to demonstrate, test, and refine new technologies effectively. The funding will support the development of a research ecosystem that spans the entire hydrogen supply chain, from production to environmental impact assessment.

The CH2i infrastructure will feature three main components: an expanded Hydrogen Integration Research Centre, an Enabling Hydrogen Innovation Test Area, and upgraded infrastructure at Cranfield Airport to support testing of hydrogen-powered aviation. These developments aim to position Cranfield as a model for sustainable aviation, contributing to the broader goal of achieving global net-zero emissions in the sector.

Professor Sir Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University and a member of the UK Jet Zero Council, noted that new business opportunities will emerge: “CH2i is set to act as a global and regional incubator for sustainable aviation research and innovation. It builds on our strategic relationships with industry and will create an environment where we can openly explore how hydrogen innovations will change aviation. It will also stimulate new business opportunities across the aviation supply chain and help to provide a new talent pipeline of researchers to grow a competitive high technology capability for the UK.