This is the third article in a series that will explore the use of hydrogen as transport fuel. The series will focus on uses cases in:
The commercial aerospace sector is responsible for 2.4% of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. The deleterious effects are compounded by the fact that aircraft fly in the tropopause, the region of the atmosphere where most weather phenomena take place.
As with automotive and maritime applications, hydrogen is considered a leading candidate to be the fuel of the future for commercial aircraft. The main drivers for this are the ability to generate propulsion without harmful emissions and the low weight of hydrogen.
There are two possible means of generating propulsion in hydrogen powered aircraft. Firstly, jet engines powered by combustion of hydrogen. This implementation is similar to conventional aerospace engines in design, and requires less re-engineering and is considered by some to be a less disruptive approach. The possibility of fuel cell powered aircraft is also being explored; this approach would leverage ongoing advances in electric powertrains.
Large aerospace companies such as Rolls Royce, Boeing, Airbus, Pratt & Whitney etc. are all exploring implementations in aircraft involving hydrogen.
Of course, airports would have to update their infrastructure to support aircraft powered by hydrogen, though changes to airport infrastructure are inevitable as the sector decarbonises (unless sustainable alternative fuel production gains meaningful traction).
Hydrogen can also be used to decarbonise airport operations, including logistics and baggage handling. Hydrogen technologies can be retrofitted easily on to existing aircraft to provide electricity for applications on board aircraft, such as lighting or other electrically operated systems.
For hydrogen to become competitive in the aerospace sector, hydrogen must become cost competitive with jet fuels.
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