Bristol airport has hosted an airside hydrogen refuelling trial of a ground-servicing vehicle to demonstrate the potential for safe handling and support future regulatory guidance.

The trial – known as Project Acorn – showed that hydrogen contained in gas cylinders could be transferred safely via a refuelling station to the fuel cell powering a baggage tractor.

This tractor, operated by DHL, was part of the ground-service vehicle fleet attending an EasyJet Airbus jet.

“This is the first time airside refuling of hydrogen has taken place at a major UK airport,” says EasyJet head of net zero Lahiru Ranasinghe.

The trial has been under development for more than a year and involved several participants including Cranfield University, which support landside testing ahead of the airside operation.

Hydrogen tractor refuelling Bristol-c-EasyJet

Source: EasyJet

With a full hydrogen tank the tractor can operate for 2-3h

“There is currently no regulatory guidance in place on how [hydrogen] can and should be used,” says EasyJet chief operating officer David Morgan.

“Trials like this are very important in building the safety case, and providing critical data and insight to inform the development of the industry’s first regulatory framework.”

Fuel Cell Systems has developed the ‘HyQube’ refuelling station used in the trial. It is used in a similar manner to a petrol pump, dispensing hydrogen gas into tanks on the tractor and shutting off automatically once the pressure reaches 350bar (5,076psi).

Filling the tank takes around 3min and provides the tractor with a duration of 2-3h.

HyQube refueller Bristol trial-c-EasyJet

Source: EasyJet

This HyQube refuelling station dispenses hydrogen in a similar fashion to a petrol pump

The participants have the aim of establishing long-term hydrogen-refuelling capability for ground-support equipment at Bristol, a step towards eventual refuelling of hydrogen-powered aircraft.

“Projects such as this are cornerstones of our commitment to support innovation and decarbonisation in the industry,” says UK Civil Aviation Authority director of strategy, policy and communications Tim Johnson.

He says the Bristol trial will support a white paper to help establish safety guidance and regulatory standards for hydrogen in aviation.