Aviation

Hydrogen power in aviation could significantly reduce emissions, show benefits by 2025

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, has released a report showing the use of clean hydrogen as fuel could reduce aviation emissions, with a complete transition from conventional jet fuel achievable by around 2050.

The report, which had technical input and funding from The Boeing Company, reported growing hydrogen industry momentum could provide an opportunity to introduce hydrogen for “niche airport applications”, including ground support equipment by 2025.

By 2035, the report showed that hydrogen could provide much deeper decarbonisation when used in conjunction with existing airport and aircraft infrastructure.

This could then support a complete transition from conventional jet fuel around 2050, according to the CSIRO.

According to Australia’s national science agency, the global aviation industry consumes 3.2 times more energy than the whole of Australia each year.

The industry has, however, widely adopted a target of reducing its emissions by 50 per cent based on 2005 levels, with no net increase after 2020.

A range of sustainable fuels could assist in meeting the emissions target, and hydrogen-based fuels represent a key path to sustainable transport, the CSIRO noted.

Dr Larry Marshall, chief executive of the CSIRO, said the disruption to air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had instigated the industry to rethink its paradigm and recover to a different “normal”.

“As we see travel resume, hydrogen presents a key solution to enable a sustainable recovery for the industry using liquid renewable fuel, and to grow future resilience from threats like oil shocks,” he said.

In 2018, a small CSIRO pilot plant in Queensland, Australia, refuelled fuel cell cars using high-purity hydrogen sourced from ammonia, for the first time.

Dr Marshall said this “breakthrough” had created opportunities for industries to supercharge their decarbonisation by investing in hydrogen.

“Science becomes real in the hands of visionary partners like Boeing, who are willing to embrace science to support the development of a whole new sustainable and resilient industry that supports a green recovery,” he said.

CSIRO’s timeline of aviation technologies for the aviation sector (source: CSIRO)

Michael Edwards, general manager of Boeing’s research and technology division in Australia, said the aviation industry is committed to reducing net CO2 emissions.

“Boeing is committed to building a more sustainable future and we, along with the broader aviation sector, are committed to achieving the aviation industry goal of halving CO2 net emissions by 2050 relative to 2005 levels,” he said.

“In addition to more efficient aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels like hydrogen are a necessary contributor to the decarbonisation of aviation, and we are committed to furthering their development.”

Don’t rush, experts warn

However, earth scientists and climate and energy experts have warned against rushing into a hydrogen economy until we know all the risks hydrogen – while less environmentally damaging than methane, is a chemical released into the atmosphere with the burning of fossil fuels – could potentially pose to our climate.

“A hydrogen economy could tap Australia’s abundant solar and wind energy resources, and provides a way to store and transport energy,” scientists Graeme Pearman and Michael Prather wrote for The Conversation.

“But, to date, there has been little attention on the technology’s potential environmental challenges.

“Using hydrogen as a fuel might make global warming worse by affecting chemical reactions in the atmosphere. We must know more about this risk before we dive headlong into the hydrogen transition,” the pair wrote.

The report comes in the wake of Melbourne Airport announcing the construction of a new solar farm, which is set to have the capability to produce enough renewable energy to power all four of the airport’s passenger terminals when it is turned on in January 2021.


Featured image source: iStock/guvendemir

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