How hydrogen aircraft can revolutionize global connectivity?
Hydrogen-powered flights could be a major factor in creating a green revolution in the way we travel and will help to increase Britain’s participation in the global transport revolution.
The advent of zero-emission airplanes will allow us to reconsider the way we think about regional connectivity and how we fly today according to the latest report by the New Aviation Propulsion Knowledge and Innovation Network (NAPKIN), an alliance comprised of nine UK organisations that were formed to create a model for zero-carbon aviation through modeling the introduction of zero or low emission aircraft into short-haul and regional aviation.
The authors of the report found that zero carbon emission flights through sub-regional routes using aircraft with sizes ranging between 7 and 19 seats, could be possible by around the middle of the next decade. The report also suggests that it would be economically feasible to replace the whole UK regional fleet with secure certified, zero carbon emission aircraft that have 50-90 seats by 2040.
The Aerospace Technology Institute’s FlyZero study demonstrated and as Airbus disclosed in their 2022 technology summit Significant progress could be made in R&D for larger vehicles powered by hydrogen, and bigger aircraft may be able to use hydrogen combustion beginning to be used in the middle of 2030s.
There’s no need to wait for the future, however. Hydrogen technology for aviation is more accessible than you think and is likely to begin small. For instance At Cranfield Aerospace Solutions we are trying to convert the propulsion system on the Britten-Norman Islander 9-seat aircraft to gaseous hydrogen through a fuel cell system with the aim of getting it into commercial service in 2026. It will fly routes up to 200 km.
There is a clear role for hydrogen and it’s encouraging to see more consideration is being given to the so-called “sub-regional” aspect that is a part of travel. Moving towards net-zero aviation in 2050 (and in certain countries, even more strict goals) means that airlines across the globe are evaluating shorter flights in a fresh perspective. Sub-regional routes that rely on small zero-emission aircraft that fly from smaller airports near the communities they serve, are being seen as vital elements and a means to demonstrate that technology before it’s developed to larger aircraft.
The announcement made recently of Cranfield Aerospace Solutions has been chosen as the preferred partner by Air New Zealand as the hydrogen-powered aircraft partner of Mission Next Gen Aircraft Mission Next Gen Aircraft programme shows the way in which the airline is pioneering in the field of what smaller zero emission aircraft can be utilized on smaller routes, where larger aircrafts have been traditionally employed. This could have knock-on effects on the management of fleets and operational models, however in the new era in aviation, all has to be evaluated. With kerosene prices expected to increase substantially due to carbon taxation and the cost of hydrogen expected to decrease due to the increasing amount of renewable energy sources coming into the market to be used in production, the cost equation is shifting.
More research needs to be conducted into ways numerous sub-regional airports could be revived in order to offer passengers. Infrastructure, that is in place and only requires some upgrades, could function as a hydrogen-generation hub local to the area which could power not only planes but also the airport as well as the local community.
From an standpoint of competitiveness in the industrial sector countries who lead the way in developing sub-regional green aircrafts will enjoy a major competitive advantage over their rivals. The UK sends positive signals with its announcement and execution of their Jet Zero Strategy however, there must be a greater sense urgency. Policies can spur innovation and with it, the entire world is on a path toward addressing climate crisis as well as creating more jobs and economic opportunities. Countries such as the UK can smooth out the development and research curves of technology which will lower costs and facilitate adoption at a global level.
The importance of targets is to keep concentration and to sustain the momentum required in order to reach environmental goals. It’s encouraging to note that in the aviation industry, strict goals aren’t just being set and some nations are opting to set more difficult targets. My coworker Jenny Kavanagh wrote recently the recently approved International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) long-term goal of achieving of zero carbon emissions net by 2050 marks a pivotal moment by creating a global policy framework that the world aviation community to follow. However, it should be taken as the absolute minimum.
There’s a lot to be covered from now to 2050 and several countries are throwing down the gauntlet for industry through the implementation of more immediate targets. Consider, for instance those US state that include California and Hawaii as well as Hawaii, both of which have a requirement that net zero be achieved by 2045 but not 2050. For air travel, Norway has a goal of zero emissions for internal flights in 2040. Nearer to home and in the UK, the UK government is scheduled to consult in the coming year about a goal for domestic flights to be net zero emissions by 2040.
These targets are clear evidence of the determination to reduce carbon emissions in aviation. They also have a crucial impact on influencing industry investment – and the resulting investments – to help accelerate sustainable changes.
The path to a truly zero-emission aircraft will be a complicated one. Different technologies will be used for a time until the complete transition to zero carbon and zero emissions aviation is accomplished. No matter what technology is used it is, there will be no pause in the speed as an industry. We should not rest on our laurels and we should be prepared that in the future, governments will intervene as a result of public pressure and reduce aviation traffic volumes in the event that the aviation industry fails to meet its environmental objectives.
Countries such as the UK can reduce the development and research curves of technology reduce costs, and ease adoption at a global level. It is up to us all to contribute – both on a smaller scale, as well as on a larger scale collaboration at home as well as with other partners on the opposite part of the globe.