Photo Credit: Ross Parmly on Unsplash

Zero Carbon Flights in UK Possible Over Next 20 Years

LONDON – The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, has been underway since November 6th, as it looks to bring key stakeholders together from around the world to find and discuss solutions towards the global climate emergency.

The global climate fight will be won or lost in this crucial decade – on our watch. So let’s fight together– and let’s win for the 8 billion members of our human family – and for generations to come,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary General.

Project NAPKIN


A study launched by Heathrow Airport and dubbed ‘Project NAPKIN’ (New Aviation Propulsion Knowledge and Innovation Network) has brought together a large aviation consortium made up of 9 members.

These members are: GKN Aerospace, Rolls Royce, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, Cranfield University, University College London, University of Southampton, London City Airport, Highlands and Islands Airport and Deloitte. 

The collaboration between the above is to investigate and bring closer the possibility of carbon free flying and aviation transportation over the next two decades. 

“Project NAPKIN marks an important step on the way to “jet zero”. It shows that with the right support and market conditions hydrogen-fuelled aircraft will unlock net zero for regional aviation, complementing sustainable aviation fuels for longer flights.”  said Matt Prescott, project leader for NAPKIN and Head of Carbon Strategy at Heathrow Airport.

Below are some of the key findings the study has produced:

In a joint trade study between GKN Aerospace, engine manufacturer Rolls Royce and model developed by University College London – They believe that a hydrogen fuelled concept aircraft could carry between 40 and 90 passengers up to 2,600 kilometres. An aircraft such as this could be deployed onto a UK and Europe domestic route network by the end of 2030.

Cranfield Aerospace are developing small hydrogen fuelled modified aircraft that can be used to carry passengers between the UK mainland and smaller surrounding islands, such as the Isle of Wight, as early as 2026.

The study determined that London City Airport, Londons regional focussed airport that regularly flies business travellers to and from Europes biggest financial centres, could be flying an entirely zero carbon emission operation by 2040. 

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions Chief Strategy Officer Jenny Kavanagh said this of the study:  “The goal of this project was to ascertain whether a carbon-free aviation system could be economically viable in the UK. The answer to that question is yes – it is possible and within our power to achieve.”

“The transition to zero carbon flying will take time, but it is a process which must start, and is starting, now. We in the consortium stand ready to work with Government, with industry, and with partners globally from all sectors so that we can meet the clear and present environmental challenge, continue to connect people and places, and position the UK at the vanguard of clean aviation.” 

Not only will these improvements to local and regional airports support a considerable reduction in carbon emissions, the reduction in noise will positively benefit local communities and surrounding areas of the airports. 

Larger airports will need to start improving their infrastructure to enable the storage of large quantities of liquid hydrogen as we approach 2035, it is anticipated that there could be a potential annual demand of 90,000 tonnes of hydrogen by 2040. 

As with all airports around the world now that have built in fuel distribution networks, the same will need to be considered for hydrogen delivery. Heathrow airport will need to consider on-site liquefaction facility to reduce delivery via roads.

France and Germany are both already investing heavily into infrastructure to help develop low carbon and renewable hydrogen projects. Both of them setting aside over €7 billion in a race to be the world leader in a greener aviation industry. 

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