How new technologies can clean up air travel

Batteries can power airplanes, at least over short distances. Several companies have tried test flights of electric aircraft powered in this way, mostly small eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft that can only carry a few people. Unlike airplanes powered by internal combustion engines, electric planes will not pollute and they can reach zero emissions if charged with renewable energy.

Batteries with benefits are a widely used technology today in electric vehicles, and they have gotten much better over the decades in development. But batteries will have to continue to improve dramatically for electric planes to be able to carry a significant number of people over any significant distance. (Payment procedures my story from last year on electric plane for more.)

Hydrogen could be a versatile fuel for future aviation. Airplanes can use hydrogen in two different ways. It can be ignited in an internal combustion engine, similar to how jet fuel is used today. Alternatively, hydrogen could be used in fuel cells, where chemical reactions generate electricity. We love having options.

The environmental impact and feasibility of hydrogen will depend on how it is used. Combustion will result in some emissions from the exhaust, although these emissions are mostly water. Hydrogen-electric aircraft, like battery-powered aircraft, may not be climate-polluted depending on how hydrogen is produced.

In either case, hydrogen has something important to it: it holds a lot of energy without being too heavy (unlike a battery). When a vehicle has to take its energy source to 30,000 feet in the air, it’s better that the energy source is really light—and hydrogen, being the lightest element on the periodic table, fits perfectly into the equation. this invoice.

The problem is, while hydrogen is light, it also takes up a lot of space. To get it into a volume small enough to be carried on a plane, the hydrogen would likely need to be cooled to cryogenic temperatures (below -250 °C). Designing these systems and getting them on planes will be very difficult. So is the sourcing and distribution of large amounts of renewable-generated hydrogen. And there is a small fact that while there have been some experiments with hydrogen powered airplanes Over the years, technology still needs work. It’s hard to remake an industry, which is why SAF, the drop-in solution, is probably the one most likely to be adopted in the near future, while hydrogen will take decades to develop. overcome.

But there has been some interesting movement towards the use of hydrogen for aviation over the past few years, with big players like planes join the game and announce planned test flights.

And last week, the startup ZeroAvia hit the press again, announcing that it had completed a test flight of a 19-seat Dornier 228, the largest plane ever to fly partly on hydrogen fuel cells. Prior to this test, the company tested a smaller nine-seat aircraft.

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