As we’ve discussed previously, hydrogen fuel is an up-and-coming replacement for traditional petroleum-based products in aviation. It’s ideal as aircraft fuel because it’s got high energy density and combustion efficiency, and it only produces water as a by-product, meaning it’s far more environmentally friendly.
Add to this the fact that it allows for longer flights and greater payload capacity, and it seems like it’s the perfect product for greener, more sustainable aviation.
However, hydrogen fuel is still in the relatively early stages of its development in the aerospace sector. Let’s take a look at current and future hydrogen fuel projects to see how far they could really go.
Current Aerospace Projects
NASA has used hydrogen fuel technology since 1958, which is arguably its oldest application as a fuel source. Its justification for relying on hydrogen is for the reasons listed above: hydrogen’s energy density and efficiency make it the perfect choice for propelling shuttles into space. Considering the recent interest in missions to Mars, hydrogen remains the fuel of choice for longer space missions for these reasons.
Back on Earth, several large aerospace companies are developing concept and experimental aircraft that use hydrogen fuel. For example, Airbus has a concept aircraft, ZEROe, which will use hydrogen fuel cells. Within its roster of concept aircraft are turbofan, turboprop and blended-wind body models.
Similarly, Boeing’s Hypersonic Passenger Vehicle concept aircraft would use hydrogen cells for impressive flight speeds. In theory, the aircraft could fly from London to New York in just two hours, making it even quicker than Concord. While this aircraft might not materialise for up to 30 years, it’s still an impressive conceptual application of hydrogen.
Of course, these big names are by no means the only companies testing hydrogen’s applications. For example, Switzerland-based Destinus is developing air-breathing hydrogen engines, and, in the future, plans to look at the applications of converting existing engines to hydrogen cells.
The Future of Hydrogen Fuel
Upcoming applications for hydrogen fuel are just as impressive, and some are even fairly close to commercial rollout. The Airspeeder Mk4 combines hydrogen fuel with an eVTOL setup to create what the company claims will be the fastest eVTOL available. Its 1,340bhp engine will be capable of a top speed of around 360km/h, which has the potential to showcase the power of hydrogen fuel in a commercial application.
Elsewhere in the industry, UK-based ARC Aerosystems is focusing on developing sustainable commercial and passenger aircraft. Their models are UAVs that can carry 100kg payloads without the need for surrounding infrastructure (runways, refuelling, etc.). These electric-powered aircraft have the potential to revolutionise how we move goods in the future, drastically reducing our reliance on traditional logistics aircraft.
But, as many of us know, aerospace isn’t just about the aircraft. We can’t forget about ground support equipment, which handles everything from refuelling and personnel transport to logistics at airports.
UK-based company H2GO Power is currently developing hydrogen fuel cell systems that utilise solid-state storage setups. In the future, these systems can be used to fuel ground support vehicles, drastically reducing the need for petrol-based vehicles. Last year, the company received a £4.3 million grant for a 1 MWh hydrogen storage system designed to power the Orkney Islands. Provided it can do this, powering ground support vehicles should be a breeze!
Moving Forwards with Hydrogen Fuel
While many hydrogen fuel-based products are still a few years off commercial rollout, the industry’s growing focus on the fuel’s potential is certainly encouraging. It’ll be interesting to see when and how hydrogen fuel has a development boom similar to that of electric car engines.
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