Aviation industry 'ditches' hydrogen
Published: 17th Nov 2010 11:39:31
It took just 32 seconds to extinguish faith in the airship and the hydrogen that once buoyed the Hindenburg, which erupted in a fatal inferno 73 years ago.
Now hydrogen is being dropped again by the aviation industry.
But this time the promised "green" fuel for powering flights of the future has been quietly shelved in favour of biofuels and more fossil fuel-sipping aviation.
And while hydrogen as a potential "greener" fuel for foreseeable flights gets dumped worldwide, airlines and aircraft manufacturers are also jettisoning their once radical ideas for such hydrogen-burning, sci-fi-like, cryoplanes.
Should we be concerned? The aviation industry clearly is. Because whatever fuel becomes the de-facto power for all tomorrow's flights the future of the passenger jet as we know it is doomed.
Facing a fate shared by other fossil fuel guzzlers, the jet will have to find alternatives to burning kerosene if it is to survive beyond the middle of the next century.
Which is when, according to the most optimistic figures, the Earth gives up its final barrel of oil.
It was hoped that hydrogen - whose volatility so spectacularly ended the hegemony of the airship when last used for flight - would provide the fuel for the next generation of passenger jets, or "cryoplanes".
Now those hopes are dashed.
Three times more efficient than oil but four times bulkier - even in its liquid state - hydrogen already powers several prototype cryoplanes around the world.
But despite the millions poured into research, the promised commercialisation of such aircraft has to come to nothing as hydrogen failed to prove itself any greener then other energy sources.
"The energy costs of making hydrogen are enormous," Professor Ian Poll, head of technology for the UK government-funded sustainable aviation Omega organisation tells the BBC.
"Currently it has to be created with an awful lot of energy. We need a source of electricity to make hydrogen that does not emit CO2, and there are not many of those around."
He also points out that as world oil prices have been pegged at $70-85 per barrel, alternative fuels are simply not viable and can not compete economically.
But just 12 years ago, experts and much of the aircraft industry seemed bullish about hydrogen's chances as the new super fuel.
Generated from hydropower, liquid hydrogen they thought would be the ultimate non-polluting fuel source that, with some modification, be readily used by today's aircraft.
Radical redesign of the world's airline fleet was planned to carry the bulky liquified gas. The result would have been new-look cryo-jets reminiscent of Thunderbird 2, with short wings and a bulging fuselage containing the liquified gas.
Millions of taxpayers' money has been funnelled into projects that did not seemingly take on board the the fact that hydrogen power would remain costly and polluting for some time to come.
Starting back in 2000, Airbus was involved with the 26-month EC-funded Cryoplane Project to assess the feasibility of hydrogen, in its bid to develop a zero carbon-emissions aircraft of the future.
Researchers found that aircraft would require fuel tanks four times larger than today's. Models showed that the larger exterior surface areas would increase energy consumption by well over a tenth, and overall operating costs by around 5%.
Despite the drawbacks, reactions from the air industry were positive, with Airbus and its partners Daimler-Benz Aerospace avowing a goal of replacing kerosene with hydrogen to run their engines by 2020.
But for the aerospace giants, hydrogen's appeal is now much diminished, and the emphasis seems to be on making fossil fuels go further.
"Kerosene is a very good fuel and very difficult to compete with," explains Rainer von Wrede who works in Airbus's research and technology department.
"In principle it is possible to fly with hydrogen and we have a proof of concept but for the moment we can not produce enough hydrogen in an environmentally friendly manner for aviation."
Where Airbus, and the aviation industry as a whole, is devoting its research is into reducing consumption further and committing to developing what it calls greener synthetic kerosene and leaner planes and engines.
Hydrogen, nuclear-powered planes, solar and electric powered commercial aircraft have all been shelved for the short- to mid-term.
"The big deal at the moment is alternative jet fuels. Principally biofuels that come from sustainable sources, and do not compete with food and water, ecetera," Christopher Surgenor, editor and publisher of GreenAir Online tells the BBC.
"They must be 'drop-in' - in other words no major, if any, changes to aircraft engines and no changes to existing fuel transportation systems. Alternative fuels include coal-to-liquid (CTL) and gas-to-liquid jet fuels that are now fully certified in 50-50 blends, although CTL jet fuels have been in use at South African airports for many years."
Aviation is growing at around 9% a year according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with greenhouse gas emissions from aviation currently accounting for approximately 3.5% of emissions from developed countries.
In addition, the impact of nitrogen oxides emissions and the impact of contrails are estimated to be "about two to four times greater than those of CO2 alone".
The greening of the skies, it seems, is going to be as difficult as putting the board of British Airways on bicycles.
At 08:00:54 in EnglandAbout 400 jobs are to be created across Teesside and North Yorkshire thanks to £30m of investment from Quorn Foods.
At 07:59:42 in Northern IrelandAn independent ambulance service has said lives are at risk after £10,000 worth of equipment was stolen from one of its vehicles in Londonderry.
At 07:57:44 in WorldThe South Korean school devastated by the loss of many of its students in a ferry disaster last week has started to hold classes again.
At 07:51:52 in EnglandPart of the M42 in the West Midlands has been closed after a lorry overturned, spilling diesel on to the motorway.
At 07:46:39 in WalesThe One Show's Alex Jones, Olympic athlete Iwan Thomas and tenor and Radio Wales presenter Wynne Evans are among the baton bearers for the Wales leg of the of the Commonwealth Games build up.
At 07:44:08 in SportFootball Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford hopes the Uefa Super Cup will act as a platform in Cardiff's bid to be one of the host cities for Euro 2020.
At 07:38:26 in WorldThree foreigners have been shot dead by a security guard at a hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul, officials say.
At 07:33:32 in BusinessSouth Korea's economy grew more than forecast in the first quarter, helped by a jump in construction and exports.
At 07:33:28 in SportTrainer Gary Lockett says talks have begun about a rematch between Enzo Maccarinelli and WBA light-heavyweight champion Jurgen Braehmer.
At 07:29:11 in EnglandPolice are continuing to question a 42-year-old woman suspected of murdering three of her children in south-west London.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2010. Aviation industry 'ditches' hydrogen [Online] (Updated 17th Nov 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/108715/Aviation-industry-ditches-hydrogen [Accessed 24th Apr 2014]
News In Other Categories
Cult comic character Frank Sidebottom has inspired a film starring Michael Fassbender, while a documentary and biography are also in the works. Four years after his creator Chris Sievey died, why is Frank's legend growing and who was the man behind the mask?
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
The One Show's Alex Jones, Olympic athlete Iwan Thomas and tenor and Radio Wales presenter Wynne Evans are among the baton bearers for the Wales leg of the of the Commonwealth Games build up.
The number of older people in England needing care will "outstrip" the number of family members able to provide it by 2017, a think tank has warned.
The last avalanche forecast of the latest Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) season has been published.
The South Korean school devastated by the loss of many of its students in a ferry disaster last week has started to hold classes again.