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Hydrogen Aircraft: Will This Initiative Take Flight?

Industries / Insights

Aiming to decrease global carbon emissions, hydrogen fuel has become a desirable alternative to fossil fuels. Using hydrogen fuel cells to power up forklifts, power generators, and sectors of public transportation is nothing new, but using this technology for larger modes of transportation requires much more planning and a lot more money. In the case of the automobile for example, hydrogen-powered cars never gained momentum and potential customers lost interest due to lack of fill station availability.

What about aircraft? Our society is more environmentally conscious than ever. So, is the aircraft industry ready to make the investment in hydrogen air travel?

 

The Benefit

Aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells can significantly and sharply decrease carbon emissions. According to the Airbus website, “Renewable hydrogen is expected to be an alternative fuel solution for several industries. And we believe the aviation industry should be no exception: it is estimated that hydrogen has the potential to reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions by up to 50%.” (Airbus, 2024).

 

The Challenges

Cost is the biggest barrier to making this scalable. There are different “colors” of hydrogen called the hydrogen rainbow.  Each is produced differently and costs vary. Most hydrogen on the market today is gray hydrogen, made by splitting natural gas, but this emits a lot of carbon dioxide. Blue hydrogen production captures the greenhouse gases, but it costs more and there are concerns about where to store the carbon dioxide. The rarest, and most expensive, is green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced entirely by renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, or hydro, which then powers an electrolyzer that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The lack of CO2 emissions makes this production method green and the only zero-emissions option.

Aviation safety regulations are another challenge. Aviation has about the highest safety standards of any industry. That means hydrogen would have to prove to be safe, reliable, and consistent. Liquid tanks would need to be stored on the aircraft and airports would need the ability to refuel safely and quickly.

 

The Future

The Hydrogen Shot Program

In June 2021, the Department of Energy launched a program called the Hydrogen Shot. The goal is to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen to $1 per one kilogram, in one decade. According to the Department of Energy, “The Hydrogen Shot establishes a framework and foundation for clean hydrogen deployment in the American Jobs Plan, which includes support for demonstration projects. Achieving the Hydrogen Shot’s 80% cost reduction goal can unlock new markets for hydrogen.” (DOE, 2024)

There are three primary pathways to achieve this goal:

  1. • Improve the efficiency, durability, and manufacturing volume of electrolyzers.
  2. • Improve pyrolysis, which generates solid carbon, not carbon dioxide as a byproduct.
  3. • Advanced pathways – which includes all new, experimental technologies.

According to the Congressional Research Service, “The Department of Energy approved a $504 million loan guarantee in June 2022 to construct 220 megawatts of electrolyzers in Delta, UT, paired with underground storage caverns to store the hydrogen produced from excess renewable electricity”.

Not only can hydrogen be a clean and renewable resource with environmental benefits, but hydrogen provides flexibility because it can be produced, stored underground, and utilized as needed. If aviation companies take advantage of recent hydrogen programs and there is enough interest in decarbonization, the hydrogen aircraft initiative might gain some movement.

 

Hydrogen at Rocky Mountain Air

Rocky Mountain Air offers liquid or compressed hydrogen in various concentrations and purities. We also offer bulk hydrogen options for our partners, such as tanks and trailers, and scheduled refills on-site for such applications. Contact your local branch today in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, or Nebraska to discuss your hydrogen uses, or to set up a usage evaluation. We look forward to serving you with flawless dependability!

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