A space age airplane? As the days, weeks, months, and years continue to pass, we continue to see new ground being broken in the realm of science and air travel. It can be somewhat of a difficult proposition because many individuals are against flight travel.
However, there are some new improvements in flight that are still on the drawing board that could revolutionize flight travel forever. Simply put, what we have here is a plane that appears more like a spaceship, and it runs on fuel that even the experts just a few years ago thought was “crazy.” However, there is a growing group of people who believe that this prototype is undoubtedly the future, and it is a bright one indeed.
The good news is that isn’t even something that is in the distant future. In just as short as 15 years, many aircraft engineers believe that we can have a hydrogen-powered aircraft that will spearhead the decarbonization of the aviation industry.
Of course, the demand for fossil fuel-powered air travel has continued to rise even in the midst of environmental concerns. However, the arrival of COVID-19 has apparently changed all of that. Many aircraft engineers are now having a lightbulb moment, thinking about how they can transform the technology of getting the world up in the air.
There is even a new program being started by Airbus that they have christened ZEROe. They have unveiled new designs, and no, they aren’t calling them prototypes as of yet. However, they are calling them a starting point to building a brand-new climate-neutral commercial aircraft.
“Protecting our environment and climate are some of the key indispensable factors that we build the future of flight,” Airbus chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini noted. “Climate neutrality should definitely become a long-term competitiveness factor.”
Why Hydrogen For a Space Age Plane?
Of course, if this zero-emission passenger aircraft is going to fully get off the ground, then companies such as Airbus have to start plotting the course. Additionally, the biggest challenge that these aircraft companies are facing is that there currently is no single technology that can address the needs of all aircraft types.
This is because flying taxis, short-range aircraft, medium-range and long-range aircraft all have unique fuel needs.
Airbus also realizes that technology within the commercial airline industry has a tendency not just to evolve, but to do it almost overnight. Engineers also realize that they have to team up across the industry to make this a reality.
“Just eighteen months ago, if I were to talk to other aerospace officials about using hydrogen for a ‘space age’ plane, they might think that I was a bit of a basket case,” Cranfield University aerospace director Iain Gray said. “But now, many people are seeing hydrogen as something that could become a solid solution to the zero carbon problems within the Aerospace industry.”
ZeroAvia is one of the startups dedicated to this endeavor, and they just received a $3 million grant. They used the money to achieve the first flight of a hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft at Cranfield Airport in the United Kingdom. There have been several designs submitted, with many of the proposed hydrogen planes having the ability to carry as many as 200 people.
How does a hydrogen aircraft work?
You can use hydrogen in different ways to power an aircraft. First, you can combust hydrogen simply by putting it directly through a modified gas turbine. Additionally, it can be converted into electric energy by using fuel cells. Finally, you can combine hydrogen with CO2 and it will produce synthetic kerosene. “We already have a zero-emission demonstrator in the pipeline,” Ms. Vittadini said. “That will help us accelerate on this path.”
What about existing jet engines? Could these space planes run on hydrogen?
The answer to this question is yes, but there are quite a few hurdles that will need to be cleared. First of all, there are some technological hurdles. Has this ever been tried on an airplane engine before?
No, but this space age technology hasn’t been unheard of in OTHER engines. For example, Rolls Royce has been experimenting with converting their engines to hydrogen power for several years now. Converting these airplane engines to hydrogen power will take some doing, but many aeronautical engineers think that hydrogen-power will become well-known in regional aircraft by the end of the decade.
What do YOU think about this new proposed technological advance in the aviation industry? Give us a comment or two below!