Could Hydrogen be the Future of the Aviation Industry?

Aviation has allowed us to travel great distances across the planet. Thanks to the existence of aircraft, we can discover new places and people in a way that was unimaginable to our ancestors. However, air travel comes at a cost: It is a contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, totalling 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. If left unmitigated, it is predicted to increase to 25% by 2050.

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Are Hydrogen-Powered Planes Possible?

While it has long been acknowledged as a sustainable fuel source, hydrogen is now gaining serious traction as a viable alternative fuel for the aviation industry. If generated from renewable energy by way of electrolysis, planes powered by Hydrogen would only emit water, meaning they would generate no CO2 emissions. This would enable an aircraft to be powered purely by renewable energy.

A recent report on the potential of hydrogen-powered aviation said such planes could enter the market as soon as 2035, however, as with any new technology, there are still significant challenges that the industry much overcome to make this a reality.

How would a Hydrogen Aircraft Work?

While much of this technology is still very much under development, there are a few viable concepts and theories as to how a hydrogen aircraft may work. Depending on their size and mission, hydrogen-powered aircraft are set to be equipped with either hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen-fueled turbines, or a hybrid of both. For hybrid options, we are likely to see fuel cells which can either supply non-propulsive electrical consumers or serve as a propulsive source of energy for powering electric engines.

In Summary:

  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells and a Series of Electric Motors: In this scenario, the aircraft would distribute propulsion using electric motors for thrust.
  • A Hybrid between Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Electric Motors: This scenario would see an electric motor driving the main turbine fan shaft during the cruise, while the H2 turbine is turned off.
  • Hydrogen Turbines: This model would consist of Hydrogen turbines directly generating propulsion power.