Hydrogen-powered planes will be commercially viable by the 2030s, says Airbus.
The global aviation industry produces around 2 percent of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, so reducing and, ideally, eliminating this percentage from the world's CO2 emissions would be excellent news.
Zero-emission technology for the aircraft is already here on a small scale, as demonstrated last month when ZeroAvia conducted the world’s first flight of a commercial-grade aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, when it flew a six-seater Piper Malibu plane from an airport in southern England. That's great, but doesn't solve the problem of transporting hundreds of people in a single aircraft.
However, according to Airbus, zero-emission large passenger aircraft powered by hydrogen will be technically feasible in five years, but the projection is that they will not enter service for 10 years or so, as the price of the fuel needs to come down, explains Glenn Llewellyn, vice-president of zero-emissions technology at the pan-European plane-maker.
He said that while Airbus planned to demonstrate hydrogen-powered aircraft in 2025, “over the next 10 years, hydrogen won’t be more economic than the fossil fuel equivalent."
To get to a point where the price is comparable, Mr Llewellyn said: “Government incentives are definitely required… like what we’ve seen in the renewable energy sector so far.”
For passengers to be flying genuinely emissions free aboard hydrogen-powered planes - which emit only water and heat - their fuel needs to come from hydrogen produced via renewable sources such as wind and solar.
He added: “There are a number of independent institutes that have mapped out how hydrogen costs can come down over the next decades. We see a 30pc reduction in renewable hydrogen costs in 2030 compared to where it is today, and a 50pc reduction in renewable hydrogen costs by 2050."
“They are exactly the kind of cost figures that are interesting for us, because it makes zero-emission aviation commercially viable in the 2030s.”