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University of Bristol Partnership for Net Zero Aviation in the South West launches

Press release issued: 6 September 2023

A Technology Innovation Partnership for Net Zero Aviation in the South West has been launched. Focused on delivering transformational innovation to advance net zero flight, the founding partners are the Universities of Bristol and Bath, the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the advanced propulsion R&I centre IAAPS. The partnership will create a significant national capability that combined far exceeds working independently.

The South West is home to a globally significant aerospace and advanced engineering cluster worth over £7billion. Leveraging over £250m of investment that partners have already secured to underpin technology, infrastructure, and innovation capabilities, the partnership will further embed the region’s research and innovation leadership in the decarbonisation of aviation.

Consultation with industry leading organisations has identified a set of pre-competitive challenge areas that will underpin technology exploration. These range from new cryogenic suitable materials, their characterisation and industrial application, through to the design, manufacture, and testing of sub-systems. These will form the basis of Joint Industry Programmes to be announced later this year. Together these will help establish a strong H2 supply chain as the Government implements its UK Hydrogen Strategy to kick-start a vibrant hydrogen economy by 2030, and unlock wider opportunities across energy, nuclear, space, and defence industries.

An underpinning theme across the programme is materials innovation, crucial for the aircraft of the future. The NCC’s world leading expertise in high performance composites, combined with the exploration of novel materials initiatives by Bristol Composites Institute and Bristol Innovations, through the University of Bristol, will put the partnership at the forefront of next generation materials. Empowering innovation and boosting regional economies, the renowned academic strengths of the universities of Bristol and Bath in translational research will be the foundation of the rapid development of net zero technologies for the partnership.

Boosted by the innovative research and development advances each organisation has achieved, their combined focus will be on hydrogen fuel systems innovation. The NCC has successfully designed, manufactured, and tested a composite cryogenic storage tank with liquid hydrogen (LH2), and will launch its manufacturing and test facility for hydrogen storage at the end of the year, while IAAPS is leading on strategic ventures to develop hydrogen fuel-cell powered transport, with a key focus on aircraft. Over £56.5m[ii] of industry funding, grant capture as well as training and capability building awards have been invested in pioneering hydrogen-related initiatives at IAAPS and the University of Bath.

With over £300m invested in its state-of-the art capabilities, the NCC is a world-leading research and development facility, with a focus on composites, digital engineering, hydrogen and sustainability. IAAPS ranks among the top three independent R&I centres of its type in the world, supporting industry in the development and validation of zero carbon propulsion technologies for integration into commercial applications. A commercial subsidiary of the University of Bath, its £70m, 11,300 sqm state-of-the-art facility has recently seen further multi-million pound investment in cutting-edge hydrogen research and testing capabilities, including the installation of a green hydrogen manufacturing plant – the first of its kind in the South West of England - as well as a closed loop cryogenic helium system.

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Bristol, Professor Phil Taylor, said: This exciting new collaboration allows the University of Bristol to share its first class facilities and research excellence to test the latest hydrogen and aviation technologies, in the pursuit of net zero. We look forward to working with other leaders to combine our expertise and accelerate carbon neutral flight for a safer future.”

Richard Oldfield, Chief Executive, National Composites Centre, said, “Combining our respective strengths and expertise will catalyse transformative change for net zero aviation in the South West. As a collaboration, our commitment to decarbonising aviation will unlock the full potential of hydrogen-powered aircraft and cutting-edge propulsion systems, enabling industry to accelerate engineering expertise, and secure future UK commercial competitiveness. Together, as pioneers in our fields, we are excited to lead the way.”

Professor Chris Brace, Executive Director, IAAPS, said: “The decarbonisation of propulsion systems for aviation is essential, but highly challenging. This partnership is an exciting opportunity to combine the strengths of the region’s world class aerospace industry and R&I organisations to tackle challenges that are larger than we can each solve in isolation. The experimental facilities and expertise we have developed within IAAPS are an essential component to achieving this transformational vision”.

Richard Ennis, Interim Acting Chief Executive, West of England Combined Authority, said: “Our priority for the West of England is to create a region where sustainability is at the forefront of our decision making, whether we’re developing our transport system, creating new jobs for our residents, or protecting our natural environment and green spaces. This new partnership is an opportunity to use our regional research and innovation strengths to reduce the long-term impact of aviation on the environment. We’re proud to be a region driving forward research into emissions reductions and, thanks to the partnership, we’re putting the West of England on the map as a key player on the road to net-zero air travel.”

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