“Everything was difficult before it was done” — Recapping the 2022 Hydrogen Aviation Summit
Dominic Weeks, Head of External Affairs & Marketing
December 13, 2022
When we started the Hydrogen Aviation Summit three years ago, hydrogen strategies across the world were often not yet codified, and aviation as a use case had not yet captured the imagination of the industry. That first seminar in 2020 had come just a few weeks after the first flight of our 6-seat testbed aircraft.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen the virtual event draw a bigger, wider audience with increased engagement across the two days. Our responsibility to ensure absorbing content in each session has become even greater.
Thankfully, this year’s line-up delivered, and after replaying the recordings (which we invite you all to do here), we note that the sessions presented an optimistic assessment of the near and long-term adoption of hydrogen for commercial aviation as well as a candid examination of some of the barriers to be overcome. For me as host, it was an absolute pleasure to introduce so many industry experts to the stage, and to see the flurry of questions and comments from the largest audience we have had yet.
Val Miftakhov, CEO and Founder of ZeroAvia provided an opening address in which he covered some of the big breakthroughs. Val then introduced our first keynote address from polar explorer Robert Swan OBE. With the delightfully juxtaposing vision of his kitchen as the Zoom background, Robert took us on a whirlwind tour of the vast polar expanses and his experiences traversing them. What followed was a visceral first-hand account of people’s impact on the plant, and an inspiring lesson in perseverance, determination, commitment and ambition. Inextricably linked, but poles apart (excuse the pun), our next actions as a global aviation industry can draw a lot from Robert’s decades of endeavor.
Robert’s closing remarks were followed by the event’s first panel session looking at how much the sector can depend on hydrogen in its pursuit of net zero goals, with an exceptional line-up including FTI hydrogen lead Ivana Jemelkova steering the discussion. Cambridge University Professor of Aerothermal Technology Rob Miller provided an overview of the Aviation Impact Accelerator’s interactive model for assessing the impact of different variables in the sector’s journey to net zero. Our own James McMicking (VP, Strategy) discussed the maturation of fuel cell technology in aviation and the role of hydrogen on the pathway to full adoption. CEO of the Civil Aviation Authority Richard Moriaty called for open dialogue and close collaboration between regulators and industry to safely bring new propulsion technologies to market as early as possible, while Keith Wipke, fuel cell programme director at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory provided perspective on the rapidly evolving capabilities of fuel cell technology and posited that infrastructure was likely to be the limiting factor to maximising the “hydrogen share” of emissions removal by 2050.
We then looked at how airlines are planning for zero-emission routes and how this would impact current operations and fleet, with insightful contributions from Carrie Harris of British Airways and Ed Espiritu of United Airlines.
Our final panel session on day 1 examined how government policies could encourage hydrogen adoption of low and zero-emission technologies like hydrogen. Holly Greig, Deputy Director for Aviation Decarbonisation at the UK Department for Transport provided color around the UK’s recent Jet Zero Strategy and contributions to ICAO negotiations for the Long-Term Actionable Goal on emissions, while colleague Tom Mowle, Head of Hydrogen Demand at BEIS filled in the gaps of how hydrogen strategies can support new offtakers such as commercial aviation. Providing the US perspective, Kevin Welsh Executive Director, Office of Environment & Energy, FAA, underlined the importance of tech neutrality and some of the challenges inherent in switching to a new propulsion technology with an entirely new fuel, while also pinpointing the crucial role that authorities can have in helping the trajectory to net zero.
We closed Day 1 with a special keynote from Baroness Vere, UK Aviation Minister for a second time, who reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to Jet Zero and invited dialogue with the sector.
A tough task to follow on day 2, but engagement and energy were again high. Val took on the role of interviewer for a lively fireside chat with Jill Blickstein, VP Sustainability at American Airlines, as she outlined the roadmap and the philosophy of the world’s largest airline in tackling its climate impact. Jill covered the potential applications of hydrogen in the sector, the role of drop-in fuels, and the need to understand and tackle non-CO2 impacts.
Top-notch moderator Graham Warwick of Aviation Week took charge of the first panel on day 2, looking at aircraft integration and maintenance for hydrogen propulsion systems. ZeroAvia’s Head of Aircraft Integration Gabriele Teofili, whose words in our introductory video (“everything was difficult before it was done”) had permeated into many previous sessions, was joined by Elio Ruggi of MHIRJ, Derk Nieuwenhuijze of Air France Industries KLM E&M and a duo from fuel cell manufacturer PowerCell in the shape of CEO Richard Berkling and SVP of Application Development Karl Samuelson. Elio explored the hard engineering tasks and experience needed to begin applying hydrogen technologies to regional jet aircraft, while Derk explored the aftermarket impacts and how leading MROs would prepare and train teams. Richard and Karl examined recent projected advances in fuel cell power and reliability, and also touched on how designing the right testing methodologies is critical to successfully devising integration and maintenance plans.
On to Panel 2, where Katy Milne, Hydrogen Director for the High Value Manufacturing Catapult led a three-person lineup of R&D experts Ron Van Manen of the EU’s Clean Aviation, Sophie Lane from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute, and Robin Toth, aerospace lead for the Washington State Department of Commerce. Panelists touched on the need for competition between geographies, but the requirement to find means of international, and inter-industry, cooperation, as well as exploring how best, amid tightening purse strings on government spending, public-private partnerships can help drive further R&D breakthroughs and help these to market as efficaciously as possible.
Voted the fans’ favorite in our feedback form, the final panel on airport infrastructure and refueling ended the conference on a high. ZeroAvia’s Dr Arnab Chatterjee, Head of Infrastructure, explored the major questions with leading executives from airports from the UK, Netherlands and US. Brian McClean of AGS Airports covered the advantages and challenges for Glasgow Airport in its full mix of commercial aircraft size and routes, and the importance of proximate renewable power. Myron Keehn, CEO-elect of Edmonton International Airport, picked up this last point and walked through his airport’s vision for early demonstrations powered by green hydrogen produced using the on-site solar arrays. Ahmad Bakkar talked through Rotterdam The Hague Innovation’s plans to run some of Europe’s earliest zero-emission routes. Jesse Schneider, CEO and CTO of ZEV Station, presented the findings from a white paper pulled by a coalition of California businesses looking at the route to hydrogen infrastructure and the advantages of sector coupling.
All in all, an absorbing event with rich content in each and every session. Follow the links above to watch back each session, or click here to find our playlist on YouTube. Here’s looking forward to Hydrogen Aviation Summit 2023!
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