– It will be the largest hydrogen fuel cell aircraft ever Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of US startup Universal Hydrogen, told Bloomberg in early March. Soon after, his company conducted a test flight of the modified Dash 8-300. This small regional aircraft, which can carry up to 56 passengers in its conventional version, has been adapted to run on hydrogen fuel cells.
Universal Hydrogen has developed tanks for this new type of fuel, which are similar to cargo containers placed inside an aircraft. Thanks to this, their operation will be simple and will not require major modifications to the airport infrastructure. Containers can be transported by truck, rail and ship. However, the plane itself required changes – it had to have engines capable of using hydrogen instead of conventional jet fuel.
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hydrogen plane. Global Hydrogen Project
In the first week of March, a 40-seater named Lightning McQueen flew over Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington on the west coast of the United States. The first flight of a hydrogen aircraft took 15 minutes and used 30 kg of hydrogen. The statement quoted John Thomas, CEO of Connect Airlines, which will be the first US customer for the California startup, as saying:
This day will go down in history as the true beginning of decarbonization of global aviation.
Connect Airlines is a startup airline that wants to offer flights between Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto later this year. The company plans to convert 75 ATR-72-600 small regional jets to a hydrogen-powered fleet from 2025.
Universal raised $100 million. financing. As reported by Bloomberg, the company has already won 247 orders from 16 customers, including such a well-known player as Air New Zealand.
That’s why John Thomas spoke of the “real beginning of decarbonization” in aviation.
Hydrogen fuel cells can also be used in water, road and rail transportation. At the end of 2022, the Brazilian Embraer aircraft demonstrated the concepts of hybrid and hydrogen aircraft. In the latter case, two variants are being developed: 19- and 30-seater. It should be ready by 2035. In addition to zero carbon dioxide emissions, it should also feature 70% noise reduction. Range should be 200 nautical miles, or about 370 km.
The same deadline was set by Airbus. In 2020, the European manufacturer showed off three prototype aircraft as part of the ZeroE project: a 100-person turboprop, a 120-200-person airliner, and a 200-passenger “flying wing,” similar to the letter V. Airbus said, in a statement. September 2020 statement:
This is a historic moment for the entire commercial aviation sector. We intend to play a leading role in the most important transformation the aviation industry has ever seen. The concepts we are unveiling today give the world a glimpse into our ambition to realize a bold vision of a zero-emission aviation future.
Electric planes are in question
The main hurdle to making an all-electric aircraft too (such as the Airbus A321 or Boeing 737) is battery weight. They have to be very heavy so that planes can fly long distances. This is why the aviation industry today is mainly focused on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) technology.
For its production, for example, used cooking oil, biomass or green hydrogen is used. The biggest advantage is that it can be used like conventional jet fuel. There is no need to adapt aircraft fixtures and systems or airport infrastructure. The biggest drawback is the price – several times higher than in the case of the Jet-A1.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), supplies of sustainable aviation fuel worth US$17 billion have already been contracted today, while in 2016 they were US$2.5 billion. In 2025, it is expected to grow to more than $30 billion, when more than 1 million flights per year will use SAF. For comparison, in 2016 there were only 500 such flights. SAF production in 2022 will be no more than 450 million liters.
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