Will hydrogen fuel technology transform the airline industry?December 31, 2020
Environmentalists and engineers alike are looking to the potential of H2 for global air travel.
As the global airline industry looks to cut its carbon emissions, many experts are turning their attention toward hydrogen fuel technology for reduced or zero-emission flights.
Air travel is estimated to be responsible for up to 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
Researchers have been working to develop the hydrogen fuel technology necessary to for mainstream passenger and cargo flights. This isn’t just a fringe effort. Major players in the airline industry are investigating the way this tech and renewable energy can be applied for future air travel.
For instance, earlier this year, Airbus announced that it would be focusing on three concept planes. Each of those planes would be powered by H2. The purpose is to discover a design and manufacturing for an aircraft so an H2 powered plane would be able to start commercial service by 2035.
“Alternative fuels are the key to unlocking air transportation emissions,” said UPS chair of transportation and associate professor of city and regional planning and electrical systems engineering Megan Ryerson from the University of Pennsylvania. “Without them, we either have to stop flying or make drastic cuts in other sectors.”
There are many factors that researchers like about hydrogen fuel technology and that give it appeal.
Among the top reasons that H2 is one of the forms of renewable energy researchers like the most is due to its high energy density. In fact, it has a greater energy density than jet fuel, not to mention the current battery tech. Hydrogen also burns cleanly, does not produce any greenhouse emissions such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and is plentiful.
“Hydrogen is an amazing fuel,” said Purdue University school of engineering and technology associate professor Gozdem Kilaz. “It is theoretically a wonderful fuel option.”
That said, there remain some challenges that must be overcome before hydrogen fuel technology can revolutionize the airline industry. Beyond this fuel’s flammability, one of the primary hurdles that would need to be overcome is in designing an aircraft that will properly store an adequate amount of the fuel. Though H2 is a gas at room temperature, it must be stored under high pressure to hold enough of the fuel in a small amount of space. These tanks would be too heavy to be contained within the wings where jet fuel is currently stored, which explains why an entirely new design would be necessary.
For long haul flights water vapour emissions are just as bad as CO2.