For years, the discourse around hydrogen as an alternative fuel has been ongoing. While some automakers have embraced the technology, now airplanes are stepping into the spotlight. Numerous companies and startups are diligently developing and testing prototypes of hydrogen-powered aircraft. Explore how these innovators are shaping the future of air travel with hydrogen fuel cells.
Visions Taking Flight
ArsTechnica presents a conversation with representatives from three companies at the forefront of hydrogen engine development. The first, Beyond Aero, aims to target ultralights and smaller aircraft. As a startup, their approach focuses on commencing with smaller aircraft, like ultralights, to make a more immediate impact on carbon emissions, especially in private flights.
Conversely, ZeroAvia is adopting a different strategy. Their focus lies in developing engines that can be retrofitted onto older aircraft models. Though changing the propulsion system might lead to reduced range and increased weight, these planes would remain operational and suitable for most commercial flights.
Airbus Leading the Charge
Among the pioneers is Airbus, the largest company among those mentioned. Their research project, ZEROe, envisions transforming the A380 into a hydrogen-powered testbed. Liquid hydrogen will be onboard, transforming into gas just before entering the engine. The challenge lies in devising efficient cooling systems for fuel cells, which will play a vital role in making the technology viable.
Hydrogen’s Time is Coming Constructing the cooling system presents the foremost challenge for these aircraft manufacturers, ensuring the efficiency of fuel cells. Airbus, Beyond Aero, and ZeroAvia plan their initial tests between 2026 and 2030. The next decade holds the promise of witnessing the debut of hydrogen-powered aircraft, revolutionizing aviation.
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