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 06:59:59 in SportReports suggesting Dustin Johnson has been suspended for failing a drugs test have been denied by the PGA Tour.
At 06:43:59 in SportFor a list of confirmed transfers, check out the transfers page.
At 06:06:21 in HeadlinesTwo American tourists charged with "anti-state" crimes in North Korea have pleaded for the US government to help secure their release.
At 05:39:52 in PoliticsNato needs to rethink its long-term relationship with Russia, which views the alliance as "an adversary", Prime Minister David Cameron has warned.
At 05:38:04 in HeadlinesA massive landslide has buried dozens of homes in Nepal, with four people confirmed dead so far, say police.
At 05:31:22 in HeadlinesGaza's conflict is once again on front pages as the collapse of the latest ceasefire and alleged kidnapping of an Israeli soldier left hopes for peace in tatters.
At 04:58:53 in HeadlinesAn explosion at a factory in eastern China has killed at least 65 people, according to Chinese state media.
At 03:59:13 in HealthA campaign for a baby with Down's Syndrome left with his surrogate Thai mother by an Australian couple has raised over $120,000 (£70,000).
At 03:50:50 in EnglandWhen you cannot afford every thing through your salary income if emergency cash requirement middle of month then consider fast quick payday loans same day services for UK people who want to loans up to 1000 pounds in your bank account less than 15 minutes.When unforeseen expenses crop up at the weekend in your life and you don't have no funds left in your pocket to manage unavoidable excess expenses then it will be difficult to handle them on time. Don't worry! For covering up extra payments at the weekend is probable. Right now you can go for weekend payday loans for bad credit.
At 03:03:37 in WorldBritain is to temporarily close its embassy in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, because of worsening violence.
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 2nd Aug 2014]
News In Other Categories
Nato needs to rethink its long-term relationship with Russia, which views the alliance as "an adversary", Prime Minister David Cameron has warned.
A campaign for a baby with Down's Syndrome left with his surrogate Thai mother by an Australian couple has raised over $120,000 (£70,000).
Reports suggesting Dustin Johnson has been suspended for failing a drugs test have been denied by the PGA Tour.
The Uber taxi app is "competing unfairly" with London's black cabs, senior Labour MP Margaret Hodge says.
Hundreds of people have attended a public meeting to discuss fracking in County Fermanagh.
Two American tourists charged with "anti-state" crimes in North Korea have pleaded for the US government to help secure their release.