Spain Launches ITP-Led Hydrogen Propulsion Plan

Avion hydrogen powered jet
Credit: ITP Aero

Spanish aircraft engine company ITP Aero is leading a national consortium targeting the test and development of the first in-country developed hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft engine.

The €12 million ($13 million) Cryogenics, Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Combustion in Air Transport project is co-supported by European Union Next Gen strategic investment funding and forms part of the Spanish Ministry of Science agency’s Aeronautical Technology Plan managed by CDTI, the Spanish Center for Technological Development and Innovation. 

The consortium includes hydrogen-powered high-speed aircraft developer Destinus, fuel-cell specialist Ajusa, and aerospace systems and structures company Aerotecnic. ITP says the consortium will be supported by a network of Spanish technology centers and universities, including the country’s National Hydrogen Center and the National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA).

A key element of the project is focused on development of a sophisticated open-air test bench facility at INTA’s Torrejón de Ardoz facility near Madrid. Design of the test site, of which only two similar facilities currently exist worldwide, is already underway, with construction expected to begin in 2024. Initial tests on the site using an engine modified for hydrogen combustion will begin in 2025. A decision on which engine to use for the program will be made shortly, says ITP.

Commenting on the launch of the research project, Jaime Fernández Castañeda, Head of Technology Development and Research at ITP Aero, says “this is a major technological milestone for having the first hydrogen-powered aircraft engine in Spain. This is a clear example of successful public-private collaboration, positioning the Spanish industry as a whole at the forefront of European testing of hydrogen-powered aircraft engines.”

In addition to the development of the test site at INTA, the project will focus on four main research areas. These include development of technology for conditioning liquid hydrogen for transformation into gaseous hydrogen and its use in gas turbines; basic hydrogen combustion research; and the development of a fuel cell propulsion system. This will incorporate a full-up demonstrator including power electronics, electric motor, and a propulsion element which will either be a propeller or a compressor.

The fourth element, which ties in with the test bench activity, includes the modification of an existing engine to operate on a mixture of natural gas and hydrogen. ITP says the work will lay the groundwork for later transition to hydrogen-only operation.

Destinus, a Switzerland-based start-up, is assisting with the development of the INTA test site. The company, which was founded by a Russian entrepreneur, is supported by $29 million in venture capital funding and is focused on development of a new generation of zero-carbon supersonic transport aircraft powered by air-breathing engines fueled by sustainably produced “green” hydrogen.

The company says that as a direct outcome of the Spanish research initiative, it is currently testing a gas turbine equipped with a gaseous hydrogen post-combustor (an augmentor or afterburner system) “and simultaneously engaging with engine manufacturers to fast track the technology development plan.” The work is thought to be funded under a second CDTI research grant.

Davide Bonetti, vice president for Business Development and Products for Destinus, says in a statement that “for deep tech companies like us, access to these EU recovery funds is essential to carry out advanced research and accelerate the innovation needed to be competitive on a global scale. With these grants, hydrogen-based solutions for aeronautical mobility will be one step closer to becoming a reality.”

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.