Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) – the UK SME leading the Project Fresson consortium – has announced it will exploit recent advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology to develop a commercially viable, retrofit powertrain solution for the nine-passenger Britten-Norman Islander aircraft.

    Following an assessment of hydrogen technology innovators, CAeS says it is delighted to welcome Ricardo UK Ltd and Innovatus Technologies Ltd to the Fresson consortium. Ricardo UK Ltd brings expertise in fuel cell system development and Innovatus Technologies Ltd brings their Scottish Hydrogen Fuel Tank (SHyFT) technology.

    Project Fresson will deliver an emissions-free (zero CO2), hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered flying demonstrator by September 2022. Having completed an evaluation of technologies and configurations for sustainable aircraft propulsion, the Fresson team concluded that hydrogen fuel cell technology is the optimum solution to meet environmental, regulatory and operational requirements for this size of aircraft, enabling zero carbon emissions and reducing operating costs. This has presented the Fresson consortium, which includes Britten Norman and Cranfield University, with an opportunity to deliver an enhanced technology programme that surpasses the original demonstrator concept.

    As a result of these changes, there is now no longer a need for the Rolls-Royce element of the aircraft programme. It is therefore Rolls-Royce’s intention to withdraw from Project Fresson. In a statement, the consortium said “We thank Rolls-Royce for its contribution to Project Fresson and wish its team well. Rolls-Royce will continue to actively research the use of hydrogen in aviation and this decision in no way reflects its overall view of hydrogen as a potential technology”.

    “We are proud to join the Cranfield Aerospace Solutions consortium to play our part in helping to reduce the carbon footprint for commercial air passengers. We are already working on hydrogen and fuel cell technology, providing clean efficient solutions which reduce carbon and noxious emissions across a wide range of sectors. Our work for the Fresson consortium will enable us to consolidate and grow our hydrogen fuel cell and propulsion capability, so that Ricardo can achieve its ambition of becoming a world-leader in hydrogen and fuel cell services and solutions and help accelerate net zero transportation,” said Ricardo Automotive and Industrial EMEA Division’s managing director, Steve Dyke.

    Innovatus Technologies Ltd “leads the field” in next generation ultralightweight hydrogen tank design exploiting cellular core composite techniques. This is “critical” to the successful integration and exploitation of hydrogen fuel cell power systems in applications across aerospace, automotive, industrial, and marine sectors.

    “We are proud in being selected to join the Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, ‘Project Fresson’, consortium. Our unique and innovative SHyFT solution is game-changing in bringing zero carbon fuel cell energy to commercial reality in the transport sector. Project Fresson showcases important Scottish innovation and next generation hydrogen tank manufacturing in the UK.” Ruan Swart, Chief Executive Officer, Innovatus Technologies Ltd.

    Project Fresson is supported by the ATI Programme, a joint Government and industry investment to maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture. The programme, delivered through a partnership between the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK, addresses technology, capability and supply chain challenges.

    “This is incredibly important for the Project Fresson Team but also for everyone else around the world interested in zero emissions flight. This project can deliver the world’s first truly “green” passenger carrying airline services. The whole team is proud of what Project Fresson has achieved so far and excited about what is to come. I am very thankful for the support of the ATI and our investors for making this groundbreaking work a reality,” added Cranfield Aerospace Solutions’s chief executive officer, Paul Hutton.