The aircraft industry is talking increasingly about the use of hydrogen as the best step to get to zero carbon emissions no later than 2050. Airbus has put its full weight behind the development of a hydrogen airliner, which should become available around 2035. The next few years will be spent on research and development, as there are quite a few elements that will influence the design of a hydrogen airliner. We asked German Aerospace Center (DLR) and MTU Aero Engines about these potential problems. Hydrogen airliner still takes a lot of R&D.
Hydrogen has three times the energy of kerosene without producing any carbon emissions, so it is an attractive alternative to traditional aviation fuels or sustainable aviation fuels (SAF’s). It creates water vapor and ice crystals at cruise altitude, which could contribute to the greenhouse effect. Initial studies show that the crystals are heavier and precipitate faster, so contrails are thinner.
But hydrogen has also less density than jet fuel, up to four times. This means it needs more storage space on an airliner. Gaseous hydrogen is no option as it would require a huge tank, but in liquid form as LH2, hydrogen can be stored in a special tank within the fuselage. And in order to keep it liquid, LH2 must be stored at -253 Celsius, potentially requiring additional cooling systems.
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