Could hydrogen be the technology we are looking for to clean up the skies? The aviation industry is waking up to its potential for the future. At Hybrid Air Vehicles, hydrogen is already a part of our roadmap to zero emissions flight.

Clean technology

Across the whole transport industry, a variety of possibilities are being explored to power transport with reduced emissions. For the aviation industry, battery technology is an option for the smaller aircraft (such as eVTOL) but at circa 1/40th of the energy density (kilowatt hours per kilogram) of kerosene may not be suited to larger aircraft such as Airlander. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) offer some emissions reduction, but it presents many other challenges including a growing demand for feedstock. What is really needed is another clean energy option: enter hydrogen.

Hydrogen – a way forward for aviation

Hydrogen is the most common element in the Universe. Hydrogen fuel (providing it is created from green sources) is a zero-emission fuel, which can be used in either fuel cells or internal combustion engines. It has been tried and tested in cars and buses and exhibits the high levels of safety that make it an excellent candidate for aviation use. Over the last four to five years hydrogen has become a potential answer to some of the challenges we face in the aviation industry. Now aviation is looking to scale up this technology.

Although hydrogen fuel cells have a higher energy density than batteries they are still only in the order of 1/10th the energy density of kerosene, but this still provides a useful level of power for the larger scale end of aviation.

To be truly sustainable though, hydrogen must be produced from renewable energy. Brown, blue and green hydrogen exists, with brown hydrogen produced using fossil fuels, through to green hydrogen that is produced only using water, via electrolysis.

At HAV we have an opportunity to pave the way in the use of hydrogen and help scale up the technology to make it viable for the mass transit aviation industry. Aviation desperately needs a step change to reduce carbon emissions by the levels needed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. The use of hydrogen is the way we can make changes now and reduce emissions sooner.

Mike Durham Chief Technical Officer, Hybrid Air Vehicles

Hydrogen fuel cells and Airlander

Airlander is in a unique position. Aviation is just starting to develop fuel cell technology for flight and Airlander is ready to support the scaling up of the technology to the 500kW+ power output and power storage measured in the 1000s of kW.hrs. With this scale up embodied on Airlander we can offer 90+ passengers to ranges of 750km using the hybrid-electric variant of Airlander 10 (expected to be in service from 2025). The relatively low volumetric storage efficiency of hydrogen can be a challenge of conventional aeroplanes (occupying significant internal space within the fuselage) but Airlander has ample space in the hull for storage.

For Airlander, hydrogen fuel cells present an ideal solution for powering our electric engines. We are currently working with Collins Aerospace and the University of Nottingham to develop electric engines via our E-HAV1 programme.

A recent report found that short and medium range flights generate two thirds of current aircraft emissions. Airlander is not looking to compete in the long-haul market. But by utilising hydrogen fuel cells, alongside electric motors, Airlander will offer a new option for short and medium range flights, with zero emissions.

We look forward to being part of a greener future, while keeping people and things moving.

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