Can hydrogen technology be used instead of fuel in aviation? Some aircraft engineers say this is already a very near future. In Suntan, USA in the 1960s, the best engineers of Pratt & Whitney tested a new type of engine powered by hydrogen. At that time, the project almost succeeded. The engines were running successfully, but hydrogen storage and supply proved to be too expensive to continue production.However, this was only the first try of many it is unsuccessful attempts to use hydrogen as a fuel for air aircraft. One kilogram of hydrogen has three times more energy than a kilogram of kerosene, the is used as a standard aviation fuel. However, lightness in aviation is highly valued. Although hydrogen is light, it takes up a lot of space, so it is inconvenient to store it on an airplane. It must be either compressed or turned into a liquid, and both options have their downsides. Also, hydrogen extraction and distribution infrastructure is not finished yet. So, are we one step away from the breakthrough?
Aviation is under pressure to reduce carbon emissions by burning less kerosene, as a result, the hydrogen technology is gaining more popularity. The Suntan project used hydrogen in the same way as kerosene to create a hot jet engine. That is one way. But many airplanes are powered by propellers, and propellers can be driven by electric motors. Hydrogen can be used to generate electricity using the now powerful 19th century technology of fuel cells.
In September, ZeroAvia engineers demonstrated a six-seater fuel cell-powered aircraft capable of taking off, turning two wheels around the airport and landing. That aircraft is a modified Piper M-class — a single-propeller aircraft normally powered by a piston VDV. Engineers replaced this part with an electric motor, installed a fuel cell battery, and several tanks with hydrogen. In the best scenario, this technology is expected to be used for the short commercial flights by the end of 2023.
ZeroAvia on the heels is mined by H2Fly, a DLR division of the German Aeronautics Research Center. In 2016, the company installed fuel cells for a motorized Pipistrel glider that remained in the air for 15 minutes. It is planned to adapt and test this method soon with the serial version of the propeller aircraft. Meanwhile, in America, electric motor maker magniX has announced plans to redesign Los Angeles-based firm Universal Hydrogen, a 40-seat de Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 for fuel cell flights. They hope to complete the project by 2025.
This approach seems to work in theory. However, in practice, they will have to compete with electric aircraft powered by batteries. In May, the U.S. firm Aero TEC converted to use battery power, flew to Washington state. Last December, magniX, along with Canadian company Harbor Air, flew a converted de Havilland seaplane in British Columbia. These two companies are now preparing this electric plane for certification. Several more ambitious companies, such as Israeli Eviation, are trying to build an electric plane from scratch.