Engine and rocket manufacturers Safran and turbine engine solutions firm Turbotech have tested a hydrogen-powered turboprop for the light aircraft sector. 

The test was carried out on a Turbotech TP-R90 model engine, at the Ariane Group’s test location northwest of Paris. Rocket developer Ariane is part-owned by Safran. 

The companies reported the successful test at the end of January but said it was performed on 11 January. The test is said to be the first to use hydrogen in a turboprop-style combustion engine designed for use on light aircraft classes. 

“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 Damien Fauvet, Turbotech CEO. 

The experiment formed part of the “BeautHyFuel” project, supported by France’s civil aviation authority (DGAC) and other partners. This hydrogen-focused project is part of the country’s post-covid recovery plan, and utilised the knowledge base of Ariane, the pan-European space rocket project

The firms explained the test used hydrogen in gas form, but a second stage of testing would hook the engine up to a “cryogenic liquid storage system” to replicate the real-world application of hydrogen in aeroplane fuel tanks. 

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“As we move to liquid hydrogen fuel, the aim is to offer a high energy-density propulsion system with real commercial applications. Our solution will be readily retrofittable on light aeroplanes and could have potential in other market segments,” explained Fauvet. 

Although this is not the first test of a hydrogen-fueled aviation engine, it is understood to be the first to work with a propellor engine designed for light aircraft.