Aviation sector looking to hydrogen to battle emissions

The aviation sector faced a death spiral in these pandemic times, but as Covid vaccination rates (at least outside struggling Australia) pick up the world is beginning to reopen.

That means focus is again shifting to the role the sector plays in greenhouse gas emissions, currently about 2-3% of the global total.

If fuel consumption in the aviation sector remains at current levels, then the growth of international travel and electrification of other industries would see that climb to a ludicrous 27% by 2050, or 12% with “more efficient” fossil fuel tech according to Deloitte.

With that in mind, the race is on to come up with technology that will allow aircraft to fly across the globe on nothing bar clean emitting hydrogen and electricity.

Deloitte sees the potential for up to 89% of the shorter intra-EU passenger market being covered by zero carbon or zero emissions aircraft by 2040, with longer haul flights posing a greater question and need for investment in research and development today.

UK-backed startup ZeroAvia successfully ran a short trial of a six-seater plane last year and is aiming to have a 20 seater hydrogen-electric fuel cell “powertrain” in the skies by 2023, up to a range of 648km.

Airbus is also progressing plans, hoping to have its AirZEROe go from concept to reality by 2035.

Whether we’ll get a hydrogen-powered flying car announcement soon remains to be seen (NB: As per Rule 34 of 2021 stock markets we almost certainly will).


Nothing a little German engineering can’t fix

Equally important is that airports are equipped to deal with the energy transition in aviation if and when it comes.

Germany, known for its pragmatic and functional football teams and equally pragmatic engineering prowess, is unsurprisingly working hard in this space.

The City of Hamburg, a port and freight hub near Germany’s Scandinavian border, is backing a trial between airliner Lufthansa, Hamburg Airport, the German Aerospace Center and Center for Applied Aeronautical Research over the next two years to design and test maintenance and ground processes to handle hydrogen tech.

Hamburg is the third largest aviation destination in the world, and is bullish enough about hydrogen to make the project its largest fund recipient among a suite of measures to help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the aviation sector.

The trial will include testing of a decommissioned Airbus A320 in 2022 to assess the maintenance requirements of future hydrogen planes, which are expected to be lighter and have different propulsion methods to current ICE planes.

“Climate-friendly flying with hydrogen technology is only possible if the infrastructure on the ground also fits perfectly,” said Hamburg Airport chief Michael Eggenschwiler.