Download: Space for Innovation: Liquid Hydrogen Powered Commercial Aircraft

By Nout van Zon


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The year 2040 is a realistic year to see liquid hydrogen powered aircraft transport passengers around the world. The properties of hydrogen, especially the lack of carbon emissions, are very promising and advantageous. Liquid hydrogen contains 2.8 times more energy than aircraft kerosene per kilogram. This means that for the same energy value great weight savings can be made. Furthermore the burning of hydrogen in aircraft engines produces no carbon dioxide and up to 80% less nitrogen emissions. With the environment and climate in need of urgent protection, hydrogen provides great benefits. Hydrogen is also one of the most abundant elements on the planet making it a renewable energy source without foreign dependance. The purpose of this report is to analyze the technical feasibility of using liquid hydrogen in aircraft. It will also look at the needed production and transport infrastructure required to make it affordable.

One of the reasons hydrogen is not used today is due to the much higher cost than using fossil fuels. As opposed to fossil fuels, hydrogen is not found but must be produced. Nearly all current production techniques use polluting fossil fuels and will therefore not contribute to a sustainable solution for air transport. Sustainable and environmentally friendly production processes including photolysis, electrolysis and biomass gasification are being developed and will produce 'green hydrogen' within the coming decades. Furthermore Munich Airport has built and proven, on a small-scale, that a hydrogen based infrastructure at an airport can run efficiently and affordably. Combined with innovative and currently working solutions for the transport of hydrogen a smooth transition to liquid hydrogen compatible airports and aircraft is expected during the period from 2025 to 2040. Twenty to thirty years will be needed to build prototype aircraft that can fully test a liquid hydrogen fuel and powerplant system. Overall there are two main requirements for successful implementation of this concept: the aircraft and airport must work on liquid hydrogen and the total cost must not be any higher than flying on kerosene. Given the diminishing fossil fuel reserves and expected advances in hydrogen technology the total cost of hydrogen is expected to become cheaper than kerosene by 2037. This will make liquid hydrogen powered commercial aircraft not only better for the environment but also an economically sustainable solution for airlines around the world