Is it a bunch of hot air, or will it one day be the standard way to travel?
Airbus has announced plans for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft models that run on hydrogen and could take to the skies by 2035, The Guardian reported.
The European aerospace giant revealed three different aircraft concepts — each called ZEROe — that will be put through their paces to find the most efficient way to travel long distances without producing those naughty greenhouse gases, decried by the Greta Thunbergs of the world.
For example, vacationers and business travellers could fly from Miami to Bermuda, Bahamas or anywhere in the Caribbean, without producing carbon emissions, should these aircraft eventually make it to production — and that’s a big if.
Guillaume Faury, the Airbus chief executive, said the “historic moment for the commercial aviation sector” marks the “most important transition this industry has ever seen,” The Guardian reported.
“The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight.
“I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen — both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft — has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact,” he said.
All three of the aircraft concepts rely on hydrogen as a fuel because the only emissions produced when it is burned is water vapour, making it a clean fuel option, The Guardian reported.
The first of the Airbus concepts could carry between 120 and 200 passengers more than 2,000 nautical miles by using a turbofan design that includes a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, which could be stored in tanks located behind the plane’s rear pressure bulkhead.
The second concept, a turboprop design, would also use a modified gas engine but could carry up to 100 passengers for 1,000 nautical miles on short-haul trips, The Guardian reported.
The aviation giant’s plans also include a third concept plane with an “exceptionally wide,” futuristic body that blends into the plane’s wings to open up multiple options for hydrogen storage and the cabin layout.
This plane could carry as many passengers as the turbofan design and travel as far too.
Faury said the design options would help the aircraft maker mature plans for what would become “the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft,” which it planned to have in service by 2035, The Guardian reported.
Detractors of hydrogen still point to the epic Hindenburg disaster of 1937.
It took just 32 seconds to extinguish faith in the airship and the hydrogen that once buoyed it, which erupted in a fatal inferno in New Jersey.
According to Popular Mechanics, separating usable hydrogen is very costly, and the most cost efficient way today uses, you guessed it, fossil fuels.
Hydrogen itself is a clean energy, but making the hydrogen isn’t — at least not yet.
The fossil fuel industry can push hydrogen as its heir apparent and seem virtuous and in touch, but the truth is it will continue to control the supply of fossil fuel-processed hydrogen for at least a while.
Ramping up development and manufacturing of any hydrogen airliner must also come with a massive investment in hydrogen supply infrastructure to airports.
Experts say the only way hydrogen will be ready for passenger flight by the “early 2030s” is by getting a big head start from both automotive and space-travel technology.
And yes, liquid hydrogen is used in spaceflight, but those are the most advanced craft in the world and launched in conditions kept as isolated and pristine as is humanly possible — not refueling in a hurry during a layover at Heathrow, Popular Mechanics reported.
A working hydrogen airliner within 15 years may be a reality, but it may also be flame-broiled pie in the sky.
Grazia Vittadini, the chief technology officer at Airbus, said the “very ambitious” development plan would yield its first results by the middle of next year, and a final concept would be chosen by 2025.
He said the safety of its hydrogen distribution systems would be a priority for Airbus, and also stressed the need to lower the cost of “green hydrogen” to help aviation have the smallest carbon footprint possible.
Will the public buy into the idea of flying in a high-tech Hindenburg? Probably too early to say. There is also the possibility of electric-powered aircraft down the road — another burgeoning technology that holds true promise.
Personally, I will continue to take my chances with a kerosene-fed airliner. Aircraft engine technology keeps getting better and better, contrary to what the Greta Thunbergs say.