The world is striving to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050; the aerospace industry will remain one of the most challenging industries to decarbonize. Many countries, government bodies, and industry players are addressing the issue by developing hydrogen engines for aircraft. Liquid hydrogen is critical for aviation companies to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft. Leading manufacturers including Airbus are striving to design cutting-edge liquid hydrogen storage tanks to facilitate a new era of sustainable aviation.
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Liquid hydrogen has advantages over the alternative, pressurized hydrogen gas, which includes a higher energy density (vital for longer ranges) and does not need strong, heavy tanks. According to the US non-profit organization International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), for trips up to 3,400 km, liquid hydrogen would be a cheaper fuel for aviation than blue hydrogen or e-kerosene.
Need for the Sustainable Fuel Alternative: Liquid Hydrogen
The aviation industry generates 2.8% of global CO2 emissions, and the global fuel consumption by commercial aircraft reached 360 billion liters in 2019. Therefore, the global aviation industry has pledged to slash emissions to half their 2005 levels by 2050. To address the issue, aviation company - ZeroAvia is developing a 19-seater aircraft that will operate commercial hydrogen-electric flights between London and Rotterdam from 2024.
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Airbus Leading the Global Liquid Hydrogen Disruption
Airbus is the only leading airplane manufacturer to actively pursue the development of liquid hydrogen-fuelled aircraft, revealing three new H2 plane designs back in 2020. According to Airbus, by 2050, it is foreseen that 75% of aircraft which are under development globally will use liquid hydrogen technology. Some of the recent developments reflect the keen interests of the manufacturers and related stakeholders to realize the usage of liquid hydrogen for commercial aircraft.
- In March 2022, HydrogenOne Capital Growth plc and the corporate venture arm of French aerospace company Safran Group announced a common investment in Cranfield Aerospace Solutions Ltd (CAeS), the UK-based aircraft innovation company. This investment aims to pave the way for commercial hydrogen-electric propulsion flight and enable CAeS to accelerate the delivery of flying demonstrators in 2023 and certified aircraft in 2025.
- In March 2022, Airbus signed an MOU with Australia-based Fortescue Metals Group’s hydrogen unit to help it reduce carbon dioxide emissions from flying. The partnership will allow both partners to study the application of liquid hydrogen.
- In March 2022, UK clean aviation research unveiled its final hydrogen-powered aircraft concepts (regional, narrowbody, and midsize), developed through a government-funded project called FlyZero).
- In March 2022, Ryanair published plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 with electric and hydrogen planes. In addition to the similar effort, Delta signed an agreement with Airbus to jointly explore the development and use of hydrogen to power aircraft.
- In March 2022, Pratt & Whitney was selected by the US Government to develop high-efficiency liquid hydrogen engines for use in commercial aviation.
- In March 2022, Universal Hydrogen Co. and H3 Dynamics announced a partnership in hydrogen aviation to provide an end-to-end solution for liquid hydrogen-powered flight.
- In February 2022, General Electric and Safran, its partner in the CFM venture, and Airbus announced that they will test running the A380 commercial jet on hydrogen fuel.
- In July 2020, Delft University team drove across the border from the Netherlands to Fassberg airbase in Lower Saxony, Germany, to test a radical new design of hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft called the Flying-V.
- In September 2020, Airbus revealed three concepts for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft to enter service by 2035. These concepts – all codenamed “ZEROe”- rely on hydrogen and represent a different approach to achieving zero-emission flight.
Today, liquid hydrogen fuel for aircraft is expensive compared to jet fuel, but it is one way the global aviation industry can cut its carbon dioxide emissions. Nevertheless, liquid hydrogen technology in aviation is still a long way from commercial application.
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