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Battery and Hydrogen-powered Aircraft

Volume 834: debated on Thursday 30 November 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards achieving their aspiration to have battery and hydrogen-powered aircraft connecting different parts of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, zero-emission flight is one measure in the Government’s jet zero strategy to deliver net-zero UK aviation by 2050. The development of hydrogen and battery electric aircraft is technically challenging, and the Government are supporting the necessary innovation in the UK to overcome these barriers. Between 2013 and 2030, industry and government will invest over £5 billion to develop transformational aircraft technology and will continue to collaborate closely to drive progress through the Jet Zero Council.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Are the Government giving any consideration to using public service obligation flights as a test bed for these new technologies, given that they are essential services that are also short and domestic?

The DfT has published a jet zero strategy setting out the Government’s approach to delivering net-zero UK aviation by 2050. The strategy anticipates that a range of measures, including sustainable aviation fuels, zero-emission flights, carbon market measures and greater efficiencies in aircraft, airports and airspace will be require in tandem to achieve net zero by 2050.

My Lords, does the Minister believe that the principle of the polluter pays should apply to aviation, as it does across much of government policy, so that the cost of the emissions trading scheme, as well as the guaranteed prices for producers of sustainable fuels and the cost of an SAF mandate, should be paid by the airlines and, in turn, by the consumers who take the flights? This will not make flights exorbitantly expensive; it will ensure that the people who benefit from such transport bear the costs of it.

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. In fairness to the airlines, a number of industry projects within the UK seek to bring hydrogen-propelled aircraft, for example, into commercial service. Airbus has its ZEROe project, through which it intends to bring into commercial service the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035. Launched in 2022, its ZEROe demonstrator project will explore how hydrogen propulsion technology can be configured, and there are many other projects within the industry.

My Lords, although hydrogen can be a green fuel, it is important that we focus more on green hydrogen, which is created by electrolysis using renewable energy, rather than blue or grey hydrogen. Can my noble friend tell us about the emphasis on green hydrogen as opposed to other hydrogens in order to meet the net-zero targets?

The UK Hydrogen Capability Network Phase 0 Project is a 12-month study funded by the Department for Business and Trade and led by the Aerospace Technology Institute, which builds on the ATI’s FlyZero study key recommendations. It will define the operating model for a group of open-access facilities designed to accelerate the development of liquid hydrogen propulsion aircraft technologies, capabilities and skills in the UK.

My Lords, would not this development have lots of incidental advantages? For example, it would make it easier for Peers from all parts of the United Kingdom to get down to Westminster, thus ending the outrage that over half the Members of a House that purports to represent the whole of the United Kingdom are from the south-east of England.

I am grateful for the noble Lord’s wisdom, and, as someone who travels from Wales, I appreciate his comments.

My Lords, the Government’s Jet Zero strategy set a target for domestic flights to reach net zero by 2040, but instead there has been a big increase in internal flights taken by private planes and helicopters, and many of those journeys could have been made more quickly by train. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to discourage the use of private internal flights? Perhaps he can also have a word with his right honourable friend the Prime Minister to suggest that he might favour other forms of transport rather than private jets and helicopters.

There are security issues for the Prime Minister, which I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate. It is still a free world and people can choose how they want to travel, and we must remember that although we are anti-emissions, we are not anti-flying. We must reduce emissions from aviation while retaining our ability to fly.

My Lords, may I suggest to the Minister that we build a high-speed rail connection to Manchester and then on to Sheffield, which might reduce the number of flights that are needed?

My Lords, to help the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, in the attainment of his admirable objectives, can my noble friend the Minister confirm to what extent his department is liaising with the Ministry of Defence, which, through the RAF and Project Monet, is making excellent progress in the pursuit of sustainable fuels?

My noble friend is absolutely right. Civil aviation and the Royal Air Force are making combined efforts to reduce emissions with technology.

My Lords, the Hydrogen in Aviation alliance has indicated that Britain is well placed to become a global hydrogen aviation leader, stimulating the economy and providing 100,000 jobs. The alliance announced that this would require a 10-year funding commitment. History shows that the level of continuity required to achieve an entirely new fuel requires state funding as part of any alliance. How much real government money is being put into this project?

The Department for Business and Trade supports research and development in UK aerospace manufacturing through the Aerospace Technology Institute. It is a competitive process through which industry can access match funding from government to develop technologies. The programme is set to run until at least 2030, and as part of the advanced manufacturing plan announcement on 17 November, His Majesty’s Treasury confirmed that £975 million of government funding will be provided as part of a £4.5 billion total package for manufacturing between 2025 and 2030. That is in addition to the £685 million from the Government between 2022 and 2025.

My Lords, my noble friend made a very good point that I do not think was fully covered by the Minister, regarding the ideal nature of battery-powered planes for internal domestic flights. For that to happen, we need not just the planes but the infrastructure in the airport. What plans are there in the jet zero strategy to ensure that all domestic airports have the infrastructure, such as power and charging facilities, to make this happen?

First, the use of battery electric has been proven in small, manned aircraft. However, the weight, plus lack of power density of batteries currently on the market, limits the range and payload of electric aircraft. To support adoption of new aircraft such as hydrogen and battery-powered, the Government have supported research into airport preparedness for handling aircraft through £4.2 million of funding for the zero-emission flight infrastructure project. The findings will be published in March.

My Lords, the House might be getting used to my personal interest in electric mobility, and I want to build on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about landing pads. I am aware of two major international organisations that are progressing and quite advanced in their development of electric aeroplanes to be used for personal mobility—as in air taxis—to help people travel easily and in a sustainable way. It is not airports they are looking for, it is landing pads, which will be less invasive in our environment. Is that something we are looking into? I know that across Europe, sites are being searched for landing areas to be trialled in the testing of these planes.

My noble friend makes a very interesting point. I do not have the information in front of me, but I will certainly look at that and write to him.