A new report from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO shows that clean hydrogen can significantly reduce aviation emissions with potential benefits seen within five years.
The report, Opportunities for hydrogen in commercial aviation, which had technical input and funding from The Boeing Company, finds that growing hydrogen industry momentum could provide an opportunity to introduce hydrogen for niche airport applications (such as ground support equipment) as early as 2025.
By 2035, hydrogen could provide much deeper decarbonization when used in conjunction with existing airport and aircraft infrastructure, and could then support a complete transition from conventional jet fuel around 2050.
Short term (2025): On/adjacent to airport. This involves the replacement of on-airport ground support equipment, currently running on liquid fuels and batteries, with hydrogen powered fuel cell alternatives. Hydrogen used for treating crude or bio-crude oil to produce jet fuel with a lower carbon intensity is also considered as an early-stage application.
While not a large contributor to emissions for the sector, on-airport applications represent a straightforward and near-term opportunity to introduce clean hydrogen. They have the potential to deliver cost savings, reduce dependence on imported fuels and achieve abatement in local ground-based emissions. They can also act as a starting point for the development of sector-wide safety standards, regulations and operating procedures for the storage, handling and use of hydrogen within the airport boundary.
Given the technology maturity and commercial competitiveness of fuel cell airport equipment, on a total cost of ownership basis, the rate of uptake could accelerate after 2025 and replace existing diesel equipment by 2030.
Medium term (2035): Existing infrastructure (Electrofuels). Electrofuels are drop-in fuels produced from hydrogen that has been derived from electrolysis and captured CO2. Given the low rate of asset turnover within the aviation sector, electrofuels represent a primary way for hydrogen to achieve meaningful decarbonization before 2050.
To date there has been no end-to-end commercial demonstration of electrofuel synthesis, however, there is a strong technology and regulatory base that can be built upon. Scaling-up the electrofuel industry will require a coordinated effort on the part of the broader industry (including upstream oil and gas), governments and research institutions globally. With strategic global investment, it is possible for large-scale electrofuel production to be de-risked, allowing for accelerated uptake from 2030.
Long term (2050): Emerging infrastructure. Increasingly stringent environmental regulations could force a complete departure from jet fuel towards 2050, even with the uptake of drop-in electrofuels. Given its unique properties, hydrogen could play a key role in facilitating this transition in relation to both non-propulsion and propulsion aircraft applications.
Electrification of non-propulsion systems, and their ability to be supported by an on-board fuel cell, will require ongoing analysis. However, the use of hydrogen-based systems for applications such as auxiliary power and the taxiing phases of flight may represent nearer-term opportunities.
For propulsion, there is significant potential for hydrogen fuel cells to disrupt the current turboprop market (i.e. for shorter haul flights up to 1000 miles (1600 km) and 100 passengers). But given the power density limitations of existing fuel cell systems, they are unlikely to provide economical solutions for long distance flights with heavy payloads that currently rely on the use of traditional jet engines.
Cryogenic hydrogen has a superior energy density by mass compared with kerosene and other SAF and produces no CO2 emissions on combustion. Aside from the challenges of storage and handling, the primary obstacle is due to its poor volumetric density. This may lead to a move away from conventional aircraft design to revolutionary aerodynamic models that can accommodate larger volumes of fuel. Coordinated R&D efforts are required in the near-term to enable the deployment of cryogenic hydrogen planes in or around 2050.
Potential CO2 emissions abatement using hydrogen-based technologies. CSIRO.
CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the disruption to air travel caused by COVID-19 had caused the industry to rethink their paradigm and recover to a different “normal”.
As we see travel resume, hydrogen presents a key solution to enable a sustainable recovery for the industry using liquid renewable fuel, and to grow future resilience from threats like oil shocks.
CSIRO’s 2018 breakthrough in fuelling hydrogen-powered cars with liquid renewable fuel has created opportunities for industries to supercharge their decarbonization by investing in hydrogen. Science becomes real in the hands of visionary partners like Boeing who are willing to embrace science to support the development of a whole new sustainable and resilient industry that supports a green recovery.—Dr Marshall
The global aviation industry consumes 3.2 times more energy than the whole of Australia each year and has widely adopted a target of reducing their emissions by 50% based on 2005 levels, with no net increase after 2020.
A range of sustainable fuels could assist in meeting the emissions target, and hydrogen-based fuels represented a key path to sustainable transport.
General Manager of Boeing Research & Technology – Australia Michael Edwards said the aviation industry was committed to reducing net CO2 emissions.
In addition to more efficient aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels like hydrogen are a necessary contributor to the decarbonization of aviation, and we are committed to furthering their development.—Michael Edwards
While COVID-19 has had a major impact on the sector, the report takes a long-term view, presenting a meaningful way to recover while prioritizing sustainability.
CSIRO’s 2018 ‘National Hydrogen Roadmap’ noted that Australia’s hydrogen industry is set for rapid scale-up, with cost competitiveness within reach.
This new report examines global applications, while highlighting the opportunity for national demonstration projects and continued innovation.
CSIRO is undertaking a broad range of hydrogen-related research, with a focus on reducing emissions associated with transport, energy production, and exports.
CSIRO’s goal is to build a clean and competitive hydrogen industry delivering economic benefit and a secure and resilient energy system in support of Australia’s transition to a low emissions future.