ABOVE: It’s not quite rocket science…. But the project leverages the ArianeGroup’s decades of hydrogen propulsion experience for its Ariane rocket

Turbotech and Safran have successfully completed the first ground test of a hydrogen-fuelled turboprop engine; a solution Turbotech CEO Damien Fauvet says will be “readily retrofittable on light airplanes”.

The first test was undertaken by the ArianeGroup at its Vernon test facility in France as part of the BeautHyFul research project first launched in June 2022. A collaboration between Turbotech, Elixir Aviation, Safran, Air Liquide and Daher, the project is supported by the French government and the Directorate General for Civil Aviation.  It is tasked with designing and ground testing a hydrogen propulsion system rated for light aircraft and developing a methodology to certify it for retrofit.

“This first experiment carried out using a Turbotech TP-R90 regenerative turboprop engine shows we can convert previously proven internal combustion technologies to create a working zero-carbon solution for general aviation,” said Fauvet. “As we move to liquid hydrogen fuel, the aim is to offer a high energy-density propulsion system with real commercial applications”.

VP of Hydrogen Programmes for Safran, Pierre-Alain Lambert, said the first tests had already exceeded expectations. “Our objective was to validate the behavior of the engine and fuel control system at all phases, from engine start to full throttle, as well as strategies in the event of a failure,” he highlighted.

Although the first test was conducted using gaseous hydrogen, a second phase later this year will see the powerplant coupled to a cryogenic liquid hydrogen storage system developed by Air Liquide. This will better replicate the end-to-end integration of a propulsion system on a complete aircraft, which will require the energy density of liquid hydrogen to give it any reasonable range.