Fuelling the Future: Exploring the Potential of Hydrogen in Aviation
Aviation accounts for around 2 per cent of global carbon emissions, to reach our net zero targets we will need to change the way in which we fuel our planes. Hydrogen Industry Leaders explores if hydrogen-powered flight is the solution to meeting our decarbonisation targets.

The goal of achieving net zero flying by 2050 represents a major challenge for technology and industry, and this goal was set out by the UK Government in 2022 in the ‘Jet Zero Strategy’.

With the transition to net zero playing a crucial part throughout all industries, companies must adapt quickly to identify newer and innovative solutions to replace traditional ones.

The aviation industry could account for 39 per cent of the UK’s GHG emissions by 2050, making clear the need for an accelerated transition to zero carbon fuels. Hydrogen is becoming a key contender for the industry, and it is estimated that the first hydrogen-fuelled service could be operational in the UK as early as 2024.

For hydrogen technology to become a viable solution for the industry, there are several challenges it must overcome. From aircraft design to infrastructure, Hydrogen Industry Leaders will explore the current bottlenecks that aviation is currently facing and the potential solutions which may help companies to overcome them.

Hydrogen will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels

The transition to hydrogen-powered aircraft will help the aviation industry grow and become more sustainable. It has a specific energy-per-unit mass that is three times higher than traditional jet fuel.

If it is generated from renewable energy through electrolysis, it emits no carbon emissions, this means that it will enable renewable energy to potentially power aircraft over long distances but without the by-product of carbon. This will result in zero emissions and minimal pollution.

These environmental advantages are the main reason why aviation sustainability experts are excited about hydrogen technology.

Also, hydrogen is an attractive solution as hydrogen has a high energy density, which means that it contains a lot of energy per unit of volume. It makes it an excellent fuel source for aircraft and compared with other fossil fuels, the heating value of hydrogen is exceptionally high. This increased efficiency can result in reduced fuel consumption and operating costs for airlines.

Hydrogen can be produced from various sources, including renewable energy such as wind and solar power. By diversifying the energy sources for aviation, we can reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and enhance energy security.

Innovation and collaboration are key to implementing hydrogen into aviation

Despite the many potential benefits, there are several bottlenecks that need to be addressed to see hydrogen-powered flight become a reality.

Currently, the production and transportation of hydrogen is more expensive than traditional fossil fuels. Lowering the cost of hydrogen production and seeing the development of cost-effective technologies for its storage, distribution, and use in aviation is vital to make it economically viable for airlines.

Many people are worried about hydrogen because it requires careful handling and storage, as any leakage could pose a significant risk. Ensuring the safety of hydrogen-powered aircraft throughout fuelling, maintenance, and operation is key.

However, hydrogen fuel cells produce no emissions and emit only water vapour. This means that any leakage of hydrogen is not toxic. Additionally, fuel cells operate at a lower temperature than combustion engines which reduces the risk of fire.

While the transition to hydrogen-powered aircraft faces these bottlenecks, continued innovation, investment, and collaboration among industry, government, and universities can help overcome these challenges and pave the way for a sustainable future in aviation.

UK airports are trying to create a network of hydrogen-ready sites

Airports around the UK are looking into the potential that hydrogen would have on the aviation industry.

Recently, a consortium led by Glasgow Airport announced it is to test the feasibility of a hydrogen production, storage, and distribution hub at the Scottish travel hub.

After securing funding from the Scottish government, which forms part of its £7 million Hydrogen Innovation Scheme, the scheme aims to support the development of renewable hydrogen technologies.

The Glasgow Airport Hydrogen Innovation Hub project will determine the most efficient, cost-effective, green hydrogen production, storage, and refuelling solutions and access the operational feasibility of a hydrogen hub at the airport.

Also, it will design the optimal infrastructure and process the delivery of hydrogen from solid-state storage to gaseous mobile storage and dispensing unit for delivery to hydrogen aircraft and ground-handling equipment.

It is expected that the project will be completed in early 2024, with the long-term goal being on applying the concept to other regional terminals, to create a network of hydrogen-ready sites in the UK.

Another airport that is focusing on the potential of hydrogen is Birmingham Airport, through its partnership with ZeroAvia for a new refuelling facility.

Initial concepts have been created for the airport’s refuelling facility on land in the airport in Solihull. An area of land with access to the airfield and local road network has been earmarked as a suitable location while on-site power is being considered as a source of renewable energy to produce the hydrogen.

The aim of the project would be to use the plant to support early flight demonstrations and fuel road vehicles, but this is subject to funding, planning permission, and regulatory permissions.

Analysis by ZeroAvia has suggested that a 3MW hydrogen production facility could produce 365 tonnes of hydrogen per year. This would have the potential to support 1,250 regional flights and 3,000 buses or trucks per annum. The remaining 250kg per day of hydrogen production would be used for industrial purposes.

Implementing hydrogen will benefit the whole of the UK by helping the country meet its decarbonisation targets. Exploring the transformational potential of hydrogen in aviation is key for the industry, especially with hydrogen having the potential to reduce its carbon emissions by up to 50 per cent.

Hydrogen Industry Leaders can provide support and guidance through our multimedia platform and in-person event series, where we bring together the people working in hydrogen with the people looking to transition into the hydrogen sector for aviation.

Our events provide you with the opportunity to gain valuable insights from experts, participate in thought-provoking discussions, connect with industry leaders, and learn how you can explore hydrogen to benefit you.

To find out more, visit our event page: https://hydrogenindustryleaders.com/hydrogen-sessions/