Emission Control: First hydrogen-powered airplane takes flight
Emission Control is Stockhead’s fortnightly take on all the big news surrounding developments in renewable energy.
The world’s aviation industry is often criticised for the immense amount of pollution aircrafts produce, with even a relatively short flight from London to Rome carrying a carbon footprint of 234kg of CO2 per passenger.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), aviation accounted for over 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021, having grown faster in recent decades than road, rail, or shipping.
But zero-emission technologies, such as battery electric and alternative hydrogen propulsion, offer an exciting solution for domestic and long-haul international flights to reduce emissions over the next decade, as well as new economic opportunities.
In fact, some in the industry believe hydrogen is a more promising solution than most given its potential to be produced through carbon-free methods.
One company making waves in the sector over recent months is California based start-up, Universal Hydrogen.
Backed by several high-profile strategic investors like Airbus Ventures, GE Aviation, and American Airlines, the company has produced a conversion kit capable of running a small, regional aircraft on hydrogen fuels.
Earlier this month, Universal Hydrogen completed its first 15-minute flight with a hydrogen-fuelled powertrain, built around Plug Power’s ProGen family of fuel cells at Grant Country International Airport in Washington, USA.
The flight represented the largest hydrogen fuel cell powered airplane ever to take to the skies and largest airplane to cruise principally on hydrogen.
Last week marked a huge milestone in the history of #hydrogen #flight: Meet Lightning McClean, a 40-passenger regional airliner powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Powered by sunshine, emitting nothing but water. #Green hydrogen is the quintessential forever fuel. pic.twitter.com/YZSqEPeghG
— Universal Hydrogen Co. (@Universal_H2) March 6, 2023
The 40-passenger De Havilland Dash 8-3000 turboprop – nicknamed Lightning McClean – took off under the conditions of an experimental airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, reaching a maximum of 3,500 feet (or 1,066.8m).
According to the company, one of the airplane’s turbine engines was replaced with a fuel cell-electric, megawatt-class powertrain while the other engine remained a conventional engine for safety.
“During the second circuit over the airport, we were comfortable with the performance of the hydrogen powertrain, so we were able to throttle back the fossil fuel turbine engine to demonstrate cruise principally on hydrogen power,” pilot Alex Kroll said.
“The airplane handled beautifully, and the noise and vibrations from the fuel cell powertrain are significantly lower than from the conventional turbine engine.”
Universal’s co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko, former director of engineering at Google, said hydrogen is the best solution to help meet western greenhouse gas reduction targets.
“I’ve been doing this and studying this for a very long time, and there is no other scenario besides using hydrogen that gets us near the goal of zero aviation emissions by 2050,” Eremenko told Bloomberg.
Connect Airlines, a startup that plans to offer flights between Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto this year, intends to convert 75 ATR 72-600 regional airplanes to hydrogen powertrains with Universal’s help starting in 2025
Universal has a total of 247 orders for the conversion kits from 16 customers, including Air New Zealand.
French renewable energy developer, Total Eren, says it is looking to create a hydrogen development pipeline with up to 30GW of generation in Australia, equivalent to double the installed capacity of large-scale wind and solar across the country.
As the owner and operator of the largest solar farm in Victoria (the 256MW Kiamal Solar Farm) with more than 3,700MW of wind, solar, and hydro projects in operation or under construction worldwide, the company said on Friday its development pipeline spans across several states including the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, and WA.
While Australia plays a key part in its global strategy, Western Australia is of primary importance to the company and will be the home to its fourth office in the country.
“We look forward to advancing H2 developments in WA and playing a pivotal role in WA Government’s Renewable Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap with a particular focus on domestic supply and export opportunities,” the company said.
Unlisted renewable energy company, Zen Energy has acquired the Templers Battery Project from RES, growing its renewable generation and customer supply portfolio in South Australia.
The project, located 60kms north of Adelaide, is set to deliver up to 111MW of power into the grid and store 270MWh of energy once it comes online at the end of 2024.
ZEN says Templers is on track to complete financing arrangements in the coming months with construction planned to kick off in the second half of 2023.
Province Resources is set to progress to development of the HyEnergy project without Total Eren following the expiry of the of the binding term sheet and considering a development agreement was not entered into prior to the expiration.
While Total Eren had a good track record in developing renewables projects, PRL managing director David Frances said the objectives of Total Eren for the HyEnergy project were not fully aligned with the objectives of Province.
Province will continue to take the HyEnergy project forward and is fully funded to undertake pre-feasibility and definitive feasibility studies.
It will also continue to advance its land tenure position and the negotiation of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with native title parties.
Frances said the company’s progress on achieving land tenure for the development, combined with the successful conclusion of a scoping study, had the HyEnergy project well advanced in comparison to other proposed green hydrogen developments.
GHD has been contracted to undertake the PFS for the downstream component of the project as marine geological survey gets underway.