Designers Hope Hydrogen-Powered Plane Will Fly Halfway Around the World Without Refueling

Flying is among the most difficult nut to break when building carbon-free transportation. According to the International Energy Agency, commercial electric planes will not be practical until batteries become a little more powerful and lightweight. Another option for the future is hydrogen-powered aircraft, and a study group has illustrated what a hydrogen-powered plane would look like.

The FlyZero project, directed by the Aerospace Technology Institute and supported by the United Kingdom government, has developed a concept for a midsize aircraft fueled by liquid hydrogen.

It claimed that the jet would transport 279 passengers nonstop between London and San Francisco, or between London and Auckland, New Zealand, with only a single refueling stop. Despite its 54-meter wings and two turbofan engines, the aircraft would have the “same speed and comfort as today’s aircraft” while emitting zero carbon emissions.

The Aerospace Technologies Institute (ATI) stated that the concept plane would have cryogenic fuel tanks in the rear fuselage to store hydrogen at -250 degrees Celsius (-418 degrees Fahrenheit). Two smaller “cheek” tanks across the forward fuselage will help to keep the aircraft stable when the fuel is depleted from the main tanks.

On the other hand, commercial hydrogen aircraft are still years away from reality. The network for refueling does not yet exist, and hydrogen is both more costly and more difficult to move onboard than kerosene-based fuel. It is possible that those kinds of planes are not as far-fetched as they appear.

According to the ATI, by the beginning of the 2030s, efficient hydrogen planes may be a more cost-effective alternative to present jets. This is partly due to a transition in other industries toward hydrogen, which is expected to lower supply prices.

The FlyZero project intends to publish more thorough findings early next year, including regional, narrowbody, and medium aircraft designs, economic and market reports, roadmaps for essential technology, and a sustainability evaluation.

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