Rolls-Royce Takes Flight Towards the Future: Electric Passenger Plane Set to Soar by 2025

  • World
  • Business
PUBLISHED 19 June 2023

Rolls-Royce, the renowned FTSE 100 company, is pushing forward to unveil an electric passenger plane by 2025, a year ahead of schedule, in a bid to accelerate the transition from conventional jet engines. The company's P-Volt project aims to enable flights for up to eight people, covering a distance of 90 miles initially, with a target of reaching up to 250 miles by 2030, according to Rob Watson, the president of Rolls-Royce's electrical division. Watson expressed hopes that the initial stage of the project would be completed within three to five years.

In another significant development, Rolls-Royce has entered into a partnership with train leasing company Porterbrook to develop hydrogen engines for trains in the UK. This collaboration aims to reduce emissions from the rail network, which still relies on some diesel-powered trains and accounts for 1% of the country's carbon emissions.

Rolls-Royce has recently announced several projects focusing on nuclear, hydrogen, and electric technologies, as part of its strategy to play a central role in the UK's transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

One of the company's main challenges lies in adapting its flagship jet engines, as the weight of batteries currently restricts their use in large passenger planes. Moreover, hydrogen technology is still a considerable distance away from powering large airliners. Nevertheless, Rolls-Royce has made noteworthy progress in electric flight, including breaking the speed record for an electric vehicle with its Spirit of Innovation single-seater electric plane, which achieved a top speed of 387 miles per hour during tests in November.

Rolls-Royce is also developing a dynamo that will allow tapping into a traditional jet engine for electric power, enabling the utilization of synthetic aviation fuel. This type of fuel serves as an intermediary between carbon-intensive aviation fuel and cleaner alternatives like hydrogen, which only produces water when burned efficiently. Through its memorandum of understanding with Porterbrook, the company aims to explore the conversion of existing engines to run on synthetic fuels and eventually transition to hydrogen combustion.

While electrifying train lines has long been regarded as a greener solution for the rail network, particularly with the increasing generation of electricity from wind sources, more remote areas of the network may require portable fuel solutions. Hydrogen fuel cells are considered the cleanest option, but the technology is still in its early stages, and the large-scale production of hydrogen from clean electricity remains a challenge, as does the transportation of the gas under pressure.

One potential approach is converting existing diesel engines to run on hydrogen. Although this process generates more nitrogen dioxide, a harmful gas for respiratory health, the use of catalytic converters can mitigate its impact.

Rolls-Royce's collaboration with Porterbrook has already resulted in the development of the Chiltern HybridFLEX, a battery-diesel hybrid system capable of reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour between Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and London Marylebone, which was launched earlier this month.