Redressing the balance

How Ricardo’s expertise in hydrogen fuel cell technology and balance of plant is helping to deliver the world’s first truly green passenger carrying airline services.

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions is leading the Project Fresson consortium project which is seeking to deliver the world’s first truly green passenger carrying airline services using hydrogen fuel cell technology. The project will develop a commercially viable, retrofit powertrain solution for a nine-passenger Britten-Norman Islander aircraft, and will accelerate the growth of the UK aerospace supply chain for new technologies critical to zero emissions aircraft.

Following a rigorous assessment of hydrogen technology innovators, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions has recently welcomed to the Fresson consortium: Innovatus Technologies which brings its novel Scottish Hydrogen Fuel Tank (SHyFT) technology, and Ricardo which brings its expertise in fuel cell system development. Here Ricardo’s Head of R&D Richard Gordon and Global Technology Expert – Thermal Systems and R&D Fuel Cell Lead, Dr Cedric Rouaud offer their insight into the technology powering the project.

Q: How does Project Fresson fit into Ricardo’s world-renowned R&D portfolio?
Richard Gordon: Ricardo has a long and distinguished track record in research and development.
We have been delivering R&D successfully for over 100 years across a very wide variety of topics. Twenty years ago, Ricardo recognised the need to move into the electrification space. We developed tools and techniques, grew great teams, built hybrid and electric vehicles and learned from the experience of delivering projects internally and for our customers.
Development of simulation tools is key to our activities: something that resonates across all of our R&D projects because there is a very strong desire to design and develop the innovation on the desktop right first time, so when we come to manufacture prototypes they are highly likely to work first time and to specification. This virtual development, especially for innovations, is an important part of improving R&D efficiency. Already, thanks to these outputs and learning, we have won customer projects and further research opportunities built around this technology.
Cross sector application is another thing which sets Ricardo apart in deploying our research outputs, because we do have such a wide sector reach within our business areas. It is often part of our customers’ request. We are looking at improving performance and efficiency in fleets of vehicles:  passenger cars and on-highway light commercial vehicles and trucks, and now aircraft through Project Fresson, and we are also seeing application in large-scale energy storage systems for grid balancing or renewable energy storage.  

We are also highly cross sector focused across the digital domain; for example, supporting a quick transition towards highly efficient, cleaner and more affordable vehicles to then stimulate consumer uptake in order to meet global emissions targets and legislation.
Several of our key R&D projects are focused on hydrogen technology. For example, we are currently developing an innovative method of storing hydrogen for use in future fuel cells for fleets of large, heavy duty commercial vehicles. Our aim in doing this is that by finding solutions to obstacles to commercial implementation such as cost, safety and practicality of on-board storage of hydrogen, operators can gain the benefits of zero emissions. Ricardo is currently working on a project with London South Bank University – which has received funding through Innovate UK under the Sustainable Innovation Fund – to research innovative hydrogen storage using metal hydride which absorbs and then releases hydrogen from its surface, thus removing the need for and cost of high-pressure cylinders.  A further benefit of using metal hydride storage is that the processes of releasing the hydrogen can be controlled and storage pressures significantly reduced – making storing hydrogen much safer and with lower operational and maintenance costs.

Ricardo engineers have been asked to support the project due to their expertise in vehicle thermal management and re-using waste heat, which can be useful in reducing the energy needed to help release the hydrogen from storage ready for capture.

Another important domain to improve efficiency is the development of the balance of plant and its advanced control to optimise weight in relation to cost and efficiency – and investigating how their applicability to opportunities in rail, stationary power, on-road vehicles and off-road machinery.

Working with the Project Fresson consortium is a recognition of our status as a robust, trusted and reliable partner to our aerospace customers. It gives us an opportunity to develop cutting-edge technology centred around hydrogen fuel cells in a very complex and challenging environment; this in turn will allow us to apply these learnings to our customers in other global transport sectors. The project makes use of our investments in hydrogen test infrastructure and will help reinforce Ricardo’s position as the centre of excellence for hydrogen in the UK.

Q How is Ricardo’s expertise in hydrogen fuel cell technology supporting the objectives of Project Fresson?

Dr Cedric Rouaud: “For Project Fresson, Ricardo is providing the fuel cell system including its controller, which is the primary source of electricity on the aircraft. The fuel cell system includes the fuel cell stack and the balance of plant. Fuel cell systems use hydrogen and oxygen from ambient air to generate electricity. The only by-product is water vapour, and hence a hydrogen fuel cell aircraft has zero carbon emissions.”

“Ricardo was chosen to be part of Project Fresson because of our industry-leading experience in systems engineering and model based development approaches, as well as our expertise in fuel cell and thermodynamic or thermal systems development. Leveraging that experience and expertise, one of the most crucial services that we are providing for the project is managing the balance of plant. The balance of plant includes all ancillaries which are used to provide the fuel cell stacks with the right amount – in terms of temperature, pressure, mass flowrates, relative humidity – of hydrogen and air and also coolant. The balance of plant has to work in all operating conditions from cold operations to high temperatures (on the ground) and at high altitudes, including low pressure and temperature.”

“All balance of plant ancillaries include: pumps, valves, injectors, compressors and heat exchangers. They could be heavy, bulky and expensive. Ricardo has developed a process to improve the balance of plant components for multiple stack layouts for aerospace but also large applications requiring multiple stacks such as commercial vehicles, rail and marine.”

“Using the Ricardo hydrogen fuel cell system development approach with multiple stacks balance of plant leads to an efficiency improvement of 5-15% depending on duty cycle against the conventional approach of balance of plant and control development, so there are tangible performance benefits for customers.”

To find out more about Ricardo’s expertise in hydrogen fuel cell technology please visit: Hydrogen for Transport (