The King Breaks Ground on University of Cambridge’s New Whittle Laboratory

His Majesty The King broke ground on the New Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, as the first public engagement following Their Majesties Coronation. The £58 million facility will be the world’s leading disruptive innovation laboratory for net zero aviation and energy. Its mission is to halve the time to develop key technologies, dramatically increasing the number of commercially viable options available by the late 2030s.

The new facility will focus on the critical early lifecycle stages of emerging net zero flight and energy systems technologies, working at the interface of cutting-edge science and its emerging engineering application. It will do this in partnership with companies around the world trying to solve these challenges, including Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Siemens Energy, and Boeing.

It typically takes six to eight years to get a single new technology into commercial deployment in the aerospace and energy sectors. Recent pioneering trials at the Whittle Laboratory have shown that this time can be significantly cut down by breaking down silos between disciplines and sectors, and by providing the tools necessary to demonstrate technologies quickly.

The New Whittle Laboratory will incorporate the Bennett Innovation Laboratory – made possible through a philanthropic gift from the Peter Bennett Foundation – to bring together a critical mass of talent, with the right skills, tools, culture, and working environment to solve complex multidisciplinary challenges. It will also be home to the UK’s National Centre for Propulsion and Power, built around a fast feedback model pioneered in Formula 1, to cut the time to develop technologies from years to months. 

Alongside the breaking ground event for the New Whittle Laboratory, senior figures from government and industry are gathering for an international roundtable as part of a collaborative initiative led by the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This will present insights based on global aviation systems modelling capabilities developed through the Aviation Impact Accelerator.

Participating organizations in the roundtable include the UK Government, UK Aerospace Technology Institute, the US Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, EU Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking, Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and the Sustainable Markets Initiative.

As The Prince of Wales, His Majesty previously visited the Whittle Laboratory in January 2020, and March 2022, to encourage the acceleration of sustainable aviation, as well as hosting an industry roundtable in February 2020 in London with the Sustainable Markets Initiative and World Economic Forum to explore solutions for decarbonizing air travel.

“We need to completely transform the innovation landscape in the aviation and energy sectors if we are to reach net zero by 2050. The new Whittle Lab has been designed as a disruptive innovation laboratory targeting the critical early stages in the lifecycles of technologies, where there are windows of opportunity to translate scientific strengths into global technological and industrial leadership,” Professor Rob Miller, Director of the Whittle Laboratory, said. “The Lab is designed to work at the intersection of cutting-edge science its emerging engineering application, providing fast feedback between the two, and dramatically cutting the time to deliver zero emission technologies.”

Grant Shapps, the UK Government’s Energy Security Secretary, said: “The UK is leading a revolution in aviation, looking to new technologies to cut emissions. Having established the Jet Zero Council three years ago by bringing together government, the industry and academia, I strongly welcome the Whittle Laboratory being at the forefront of that endeavor today. This will further help the best minds from the fields of energy and aviation push ever-further and faster with the latest innovations in order to solve the problem of environmentally friendly and affordable flying.”

Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer at Rolls-Royce, said:  “The Whittle Laboratory and Rolls-Royce have worked together for 50 years. Over this time the partnership has delivered hundreds of technologies into Rolls-Royce products. Deep technology partnerships like this are critical if the UK is to maintain its role as a science superpower and to create high value jobs in the UK. The New Whittle Laboratory offers an exciting opportunity to raise this ambition by bringing together cutting-edge science and engineering application in one building with the aim of meeting the challenge of net zero flight by 2050.”

Jim Hileman, Vice President and Chief Engineer, Sustainability and Future Mobility at Boeing said: “Boeing’s partnership with the University of Cambridge is central to the effort of making aviation carbon neutral. As well as helping us to find technology solutions, it is bringing together different companies and academic disciplines from across the sector to drive change at the system level. We are excited by the way in which the New Whittle Laboratory has been designed to break down silos, bringing together a wide range of disciplines to take on the most challenging net zero aviation problems.”