Hydrogen Valley begins R&D on hydrogen to replace jet-fuel

Abandoning traditional aviation fuels will be an essential element in minimizing CO2 emissions in this sector. However, this is problematic because aviation – especially on long-haul flights – requires a very high-energy fuel.

  • The Polish aviation industry has a chance to appear in the green transformation of this sector – assesses Marek Darecki, president of the Aviation Valley. As he points out, the “greening” of aviation is a process from which there is no turning back, and the greatest potential for decarbonising this sector comes from using liquid hydrogen as fuel. – This is what we want to do in the Aviation Valley – emphasizes the expert. The creation of the Podkarpackie Wodorowa Valley may be a chance for the development of works in this area.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic made travel difficult, aviation was booming, and IATA estimated that by 2037 the number of passengers at global airports would triple to more than 8.2 billion people. Freight air transport also recorded significant increases. Across Europe, this sector is of strategic importance – according to the data cited by the European Commission, before the pandemic, aviation contributed around EUR 300 billion (or around 2.1% of GDP) to the European economy, providing over 5 million jobs. Therefore, its future is an important topic – not only in the context of the pandemic, but also climate change, because air travel has a large impact on the environment and CO2 emissions. According to the calculator provided by the myclimate foundation, a direct one-way flight from Warsaw to Paris is approximately 259 kg of CO2 per passenger.

In its last year’s analysis, the Polish Economic Institute indicated that abandoning traditional aviation fuels will be an essential element in minimizing CO2 emissions in this sector. However, this is problematic because aviation – especially on long-haul flights – requires a very high-energy fuel. Traditional biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are not suitable for use in airplanes because they have a low energy density and freeze easily at low temperatures.

As the president of Aviation Valley points out, the second method of “greening” aviation are hybrid and electric planes, on which, among others, Airbus and Boeing.

As he emphasizes, the most promising direction for the aviation industry is the use of liquid hydrogen as fuel. Projects of this type are also already underway. Airbus in September last year announced that he is working on the creation of an aircraft with a capacity of 100 to 200 passengers, fueled by hydrogen fuel (ZEROe project). The aviation giant plans to launch the first commercial liquid hydrogen (LH2) aircraft as early as 2035.

LH2 has the potential to reduce the negative environmental impact of aviation and enable the decarbonisation of the sector. It is a good heat dissipator and its combustion would result in much lower nitrogen oxide emissions than with standard aviation fuel. The barrier, however, is that LH2 production is expensive and requires technology that the market is unlikely to be able to develop without government support.

Last week, with the participation of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Minister of Climate and Environment Michał Kurtyka, a letter of intent was signed, according to which the first hydrogen valley in Poland (out of five planned) is to be created in Rzeszów. The agreement signed by representatives of business, scientific units and public administration concerns cooperation in the field of, inter alia, R&D works related to the use of hydrogen as a fuel for transport, including aviation. The experiences of the Aviation Valley are to be used in building a new cluster. EUR 800 million is also provided for the development of hydrogen under the National Reconstruction Plan.

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