Hydrogen Aviation: Realistic or Crash Scenario?

Hydrogen is a trendy topic, especially in civil aviation, but what are the challenges to achieve this goal?

Hydrogen investments are growing: €9bn in Germany to accelerate hydrogen production by 2040, €1.5bn in France to build a hydrogen-powered prototype aircraft between 2026 and 2028, £12bn in the United Kingdom to build a 4GW wind farm for hydrogen production, etc.

To summarize, hydrogen is a trendy topic, especially in civil aviation, where the promise of decarbonized aviation in 2035 is catching everyone's attention. But what are the challenges to achieve this goal?

 

Challenge 1: Redesigning and certifying the aircraft

A hydrogen-powered airplane requires a complete redesign: new fuselage, engine modifications, and integration of cylindrical tanks to store liquid hydrogen. Therefore, a new certification process is required that hasn’t been invented yet.

 

Challenge 2: Balancing zero emissions, economic viability, and production capacity

There are 3 types of hydrogen, classified according to their method of production:

· “Grey" hydrogen: produced from fossil fuels. More polluting and more expensive than kerosene, grey hydrogen has no interest in this context.

· “Blue" hydrogen: produced using carbon capture and/or nuclear energy. Approximately 3 times less polluting than kerosene; its use is estimated to increase the price of the plane ticket by about 10%.

· “Green" hydrogen: produced by electrolysis. Its carbon impact is estimated to be 6 times less than kerosene, but its financial impact on the price of the ticket is almost 20%.

 

Challenge 3: Which energy mix?

The production of hydrogen by electrolysis requires a significant amount of electricity. This calls for new production capacity, ideally renewable. To illustrate the scale of this challenge, we have simulated the number of wind turbines or EPR reactors that this overcapacity represents to supply two major airports: link to Image 1 & Image 2

To sum up, reconciling green hydrogen, economic viability and production capacity now seems utopian unless major advances are made in energy production.

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