Project Napkin: Making Zero-carbon Emission Flight a reality in the UK

Project Napkin aims to help inform Government, and the industry more broadly, to better understand the opportunities, challenges and conditions required to enable zero-carbon emissions flights. It evaluates each part of the future aviation system to model the impact of modified and original aircraft concepts on ‘five As’ of Aircraft, Airport, Airspace, Airline, and Air Passenger. In doing so, it is shedding light on the ground infrastructure, energy demand, noise performance, and passenger response.

The NAPKIN consortium formed in spring 2020 and commenced grant funded work in November 2020. The consortium features three airports/airport groups (Heathrow, London City, Highlands and Islands), three manufacturers (GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions), three academic institutions (University College London, Cranfield University and the University of Southampton) and Deloitte.

While the focus for the consortium is the UK sub-regional and regional market (<100 pax), it is expected that the learnings can be applied across markets globally. It is also the shared view that hydrogen aircraft represent a credible solution to reach zero-carbon flight and are the natural complement to Sustainable Aviation Fuels.

Within the scope of advancing zero-carbon emission regional connectivity, NAPKIN has explored the conditions necessary to enable the successful introduction of Zero-carbon Emission Flight (ZEF) in the UK for domestic air travel. The project relies on a model of affordable domestic sustainable aviation with a potential to address climate and connectivity challenges together. It is based on the belief that regional and sub-regional hydrogen-powered flight presents an economic and environmental opportunity the UK must consider.

Rolls-Royce, GKN Aerospace and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions developed a series of hydrogen fuelled aircraft concepts with capacities from 7 to 90 seats, both retrofit and clean sheet (the ‘NAPKIN fleet’). The design process benefitted from the creation of hydrogen technology roadmaps to identify key challenges in the aerospace industry to unlock the zero-carbon potential in the sector.

However, uptake of these concepts will depend on whether the right market conditions for airline profitability are in place. For instance, new ground infrastructure will be required at individual airport and national level to enable regional uptake, depending on the airport size. Project Napkin presents what new infrastructure will be required to deliver hydrogen to airports and aircrafts, as well as potential changes to airport operations, including a focus on noise performance.

Similarly, the project recommends the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) to be accelerated to provide the air transport industry with a sustainable solution in the short-term while zero-carbon emission aircraft are being developed to offer a complementary solution.

In terms of technology, NAPKIN has developed a viable technology aircraft based on technology assumptions broadly in line with those of the wider industry published views, including FlyZero. Significant reductions in UK domestic CO2 emissions using hydrogen aircraft will also require use of SAF with conventional aircraft at least during the transition period. The respective role of each technology will be driven by the economics and policy choices regarding green hydrogen production, airport infrastructure, the competitiveness of new hydrogen aircraft both economically and technologically, and their rate of penetration into airline fleets.

Read the full project report here.

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