A new hydrogen-powered aircraft concept that was unveiled Monday could allow passengers to travel anywhere in the world with zero carbon emissions, slashing travel time and reducing the impact international travel has on the planet. Traveling at the same speed as a traditional airliner but with a significantly boosted range, the FlyZero project may make traveling between the USA and Australia, London, and beyond a single-trip affair, with the first flights expected around the mid-2030s.
“The Aerospace Technology Institute’s pioneering research highlights the potential for hydrogen in realizing zero-carbon global connectivity. This ground-breaking green technology looks set to play a critical role in decarbonizing flight and through the work of the Jet Zero Council, the UK aviation sector is exploring all avenues to ensure we protect the benefits of flying for future generations, while cutting the carbon cost,” said Jet Zero CEO Emma Gilthorpe, in a statement.
The plane would utilize liquid hydrogen, a fuel researched for both airplanes and cars for years that produces significantly more energy than aviation kerosene but releases no CO2 when in use. Alongside the climate benefits, liquid hydrogen weighs around one-third of the weight of kerosene for the same flight journey, allowing the aircraft to increase their range to cut those disruptive mid-flight stop-overs.
Each plane would have two large tanks of cryogenically-stored liquid hydrogen at the rear, with two smaller tanks at the front to balance it. In traditional airliners, the fuel is stored in the wings, but placing the fuel at the front and rear eliminates the need for any extra aerodynamic structures to keep the plane aloft.
Designed at the Aerospace Technology Institute, UK, the team believes that the project will be a huge opportunity for consumers and governments to reduce the carbon footprint of travel, whilst creating new jobs in the process.
“At a time of global focus on tackling climate change our midsize concept sets out a truly revolutionary vision for the future of global air travel keeping families, businesses and nations connected without the carbon footprint,” said FlyZero project director Chris Gear.
“This new dawn for aviation brings with it real opportunities for the UK aerospace sector to secure market share, highly skilled jobs, and inward investment while helping to meet the UK’s commitments to fight climate change.”
While hydrogen looks like a promising option for the future of land, air, and sea travel, it still comes with significant challenges. As seen above, it must be stored at cryogenic temperatures, making the design of vehicles challenging. Alongside this, while hydrogen is carbon neutral when burning, the method of production is currently far from it – around 95 percent of all hydrogen in the US is produced by steam-methane reforming, which uses fossil fuels and produces carbon dioxide. Other options are being explored to reduce the carbon footprint of hydrogen production, but nothing has penetrated the manufacturing sector just yet.