Airbus recently introduced their new program ZEROe, which allows for zero-emission commercial planes. The concept outlines that the planes will be fueled with hydrogen to eliminate their carbon footprint. CNN explains that hydrogen can be used in different ways to power airplanes: it can be combusted directly through modified gas turbines, converted into electric energy, using fuel cells, and even combined with CO2 can be used to produce synthetic kerosene.
The European aerospace company already has jets that run electrically but says it is not a realistic solution for large aircraft, with hydrogen promising more potential. According to The Air Current, Airbus vice president of zero-emission aircraft Glenn Llewelyn says, “our experience with batteries shows us that battery technology is not moving at the pace we want.”
As it turns out, the idea of hydrogen-power aircraft is not new. Instead, it was scrapped by the aviation industry ten years ago due to complications and high costs. In 2010, Ian Poll, head of technology for the UK government-funded sustainable aviation Omega organization told BBC News, “the energy costs of making hydrogen are enormous.” Millions of dollars were poured into the project but despite the costs, their biggest challenge then and now is the design. Airbus has come up with three different designs of the planes but still needs to work on making them compatible with hydrogen.
The industry should not have abandoned the greener alternative a decade ago, as climate change induced by the severe influx of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not new. Because they were aware of the effects, they could have begun combatting it much earlier. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), global economic losses due to climate-related disasters between 2000 and 2019 are $2.97 trillion, compared to $1.63 trillion the decade before. If there was a solid plan by now, aircraft could have made a significantly positive difference towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on climate action.
Green Car Congress says hydrogen fueling could cut CO2 emissions by up to fifty percent, and with technology constantly advancing, this could have been possible. Although planes are not the biggest contributors to the climate crisis, the mere transition to more sustainable practices would be a model for other industries to follow. When hydrogen fueling becomes a reality in the aviation industry, the auto industry could take up this concept as well, slowly reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
With its easy accessibility and cost efficiency, kerosene will be hard to replace as the standard jet fuel. At first, there will be a limit to where hydrogen planes can travel because of range and refueling restrictions, which is why airlines need to invest in new technology to make hydrogen fuel more efficient. According to CNN, Airbus teamed up with airlines, airports, and energy companies to make it a reality by 2035. While there once was a loss of hope for hydrogen fueling, it is proving different this time with greater awareness of the irreversible damage of climate change.
With an expectation of fifty percent of commercial planes eventually using hydrogen fueling, the costs of flights with planes operating on kerosene will most likely decrease. In turn, the decline of prices could lead to people deciding to travel on these flights, effectively countering the progress of hydrogen-fueled flights and of reducing emissions.
While ticket prices for consumers may rise, Airbus, along with other companies, has demonstrated greater motivation to push for eco-friendly substitutes. They must adopt solutions for the problems that emerge with the new plan. For now, they should adopt more sustainable fuel, as some companies in Europe already are, by the time hydrogen-fueled aircraft are more than a design on a piece of paper.