Air traffic is approaching decarbonisation like a snail over double-sided tape, but the pace could accelerate as Airbus continues its plan to develop hydrogen hubs at airports around the world. Not so long ago, it would require a lot of fossil energy. However, Airbus has just signed an agreement with global industrial gas company Linde to help implement its plan, and Linde has plans to revitalize the green hydrogen supply chain.
Not-so-green hydrogen for the airport of the future
In terms of decarbonising soup to nuts, the Linde agreement could mean several different things for Airbus’ global hydrogen center plan, which the aircraft manufacturer launched in 2020.
Hydrogen is not 100% pure fuel because nitrogen oxides are part of the emissions package. On the positive side, hydrogen releases only trace amounts of carbon dioxide during combustion. Also, when hydrogen is used in a fuel cell to generate electricity, no air emissions occur at all. Water is the only by-product.
The problem is that the modern global economy runs on hydrogen, which is obtained mainly by steam reforming, with natural gas being the primary raw material. The picture also includes coal and recycled industrial by-products.
Older companies like Linde have a solid footprint of hydrogen from fossil fuels, but are also beginning to respond to customer demand for more sustainable sourcing. Carbon reduction is also having an impact on a growing number of jurisdictions around the world. In addition to its conventional hydrogen business, Linde also offers a hydrogen product that is 40% less carbon-intensive than the conventional steam method, which uses waste gases and other alternative raw materials.
Demand for green hydrogen is growing
None of this sounds particularly appealing in terms of saving the planet, but Airbus is one of those customers looking for more sustainable sources of hydrogen and focuses on green hydrogen from renewable sources, which provides suppliers like Linde even more. incentive to find more sustainable resources.
“Hydrogen is a high-potential technology with a specific energy per unit mass three times higher than traditional jet fuel. When produced from renewable energy by electrolysis, it emits no CO2 emissions, allowing renewable energy to potentially power large aircraft over long distances, but without the unwanted by-product of CO2 emissions, ”Airbus exclaims (emphasizing them).
Airbus is currently considering two routes for hydrogen in aircraft. Hydrogen could be used as is, as a combustible fuel in modified gas turbines, or it could be used to generate electricity in a fuel cell.
The second way is the use of hydrogen as a raw material for the production of new fuels with carbon dioxide and renewable energy. It belongs to the newly emerging category of electric fuels, which are low-emission but not emission-free. As with biofuels, the idea is to recycle carbon rather than extract buried carbon from Earth.
More & greener hydrogen on the way
Airbus expects to make a decision by 2025. Either way, the company expects green hydrogen to play a significant role in its journey to hydrogen, and Linde seems to be preparing for the spot in the first place.
In January 2021, Linde announced that it would build a 24-megawatt cell in the large Leuna chemical complex in Germany. The plant, which at the time was billed as the largest of its kind, will supply green hydrogen to industrial customers through Linde’s existing pipelines. The company also announced plans to distribute liquefied green hydrogen in the region.
Linde is clearly well on its way to moving the bikes in Leuna sometime this year. Meanwhile, he does not let the green hydrogen grass grow under his feet. In January this year, the company announced plans for another 24-megawatt cell plant at Herøya Industripark in Porsgrunn, Norway, to supply hydrogen to the Yara ammonia plant. The aim is to demonstrate green hydrogen as a driving force for decarbonisation for the fertilizer and shipping industries, two areas of Yara’s immediate interest.
What is the hydrogen charge you’re talking about?
As for Linde’s role in the Airbus H2 hub plan, both companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding last week covering airports around the world, including a number of pilot projects to begin next year. The two companies will also work together to evaluate electricity.
Currently, airports in France, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have signed the concept of a node, which is initially focused on the integration of hydrogen into ground operations.
In support of this plan, Airbus also signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Airports International Council Europe last week, which aims to strengthen “cooperation on new aviation energy ecosystems.
“The common goal is to enable the wider use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and to develop the hydrogen ecosystem needed for zero-emission aviation technologies by preparing and bringing related airport support infrastructure to the market,” explains Airbus.
The plane of the future with zero emissions
If all goes according to plan, the new hydrogen nodes will also be serviced by Airbus’ new hydrogen planes. The company introduced its first concept aircraft, the “ZEROe”, in 2020, presenting hydrogen as an “option that Airbus believes to be an exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel and likely to be a solution for the aerospace and many other industries to meet its climate neutral targets. . “
Now would be a good time to bet on a winning concept:
“Design with a turbocharger (120-200 passengers) with a range of more than 2 000 nautical miles, capable of transcontinental operation and powered by a modified hydrogen gas turbine engine”
“Turboprop design (up to 100 passengers) using a turboprop engine instead of a turbocharger and also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas turbine engines capable of more than 1000 nautical miles’
“The concept of a ‘mixed-wing superstructure’ (up to 200 passengers), in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbocharged concept.
Batteries are included
If you’re wondering if there is a battery-powered aircraft in the future of Airbus, that’s a good question. Airbus appears to be betting on hydrogen for accelerated flights, but has also abandoned long-distance and regional travel because of its CityAirbus NextGen electric aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing.
Last week was definitely busy for Airbus. The company also announced a new agreement with Munich Airport International to provide ground infrastructure services and additional support for CityAirbus, which resembles a fixed-wing helicopter with a V-shaped tail instead of a rotor located at the top.
Airbus is gradually splitting responsibility for the development of CityAirbus parts, most recently KLM Motorsports for the rear and MAGicALL for electric motors. So far no word on the battery, other than that it seems to be expected that the latest generation of lithium-ion batteries will handle this task.
Hydrogen and battery-powered aircraft of any significant size are still out of sight, although both are making progress. For example, United Airlines is investing in the idea of short-haul battery flights. It is also one of the newest to come aboard the trend of fuel cell aircraft in collaboration with the emerging company ZeroAvia for hydrogen fuel cell aircraft. The US Navy is also watching a solar-cell fuel cell aircraft that could fly virtually forever without refueling.
Meanwhile, Airbus, like other stakeholders in the aerospace industry, relies on biologically based SAF to fill the gap. The company is already certified to use a blend of 50% biologically based SAF and 50% kerosene, and last year began testing 100% SAF from used cooking oil and other waste fat.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: ZEROe aircraft concept courtesy of Airbus.
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