The world’s first zero-emissions commercial aircraft are expected to take off by 2035. With that in mind Airbus has revealed three concept planes that take to the skies with greener propulsion. Known as ZEROe, this trio of concepts are powered by hydrogen and have the potential to reduce aircraft emissions by 50%.
On the face of it two of the planes look quite familiar. One looks like a common or garden airliner, albeit with longer wings. Another looks like any old turboprop plane (meaning that a jet engine spins a propellor). The third however is a revolutionary “blended wing body,” a radical idea that has gained traction in recent years.
But the big news here is the three planes’ power. There are two types of hydrogen propulsion: hydrogen combustion and hydrogen fuel cells. These three planes are all hydrogen-hybrid; a modified gas turbine burns liquid hydrogen as fuel. This is similar to the Saturn V rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. One small step for man without one giant carbon footprint for mankind. As well as that, the planes have fuel cells to generate electric power “that complements the gas turbine.” If the technology develops “at the expected rate,” Airbus hopes that planes similar to these could enter service by 2035.
Meanwhile, in an airfield in the state of Washington, an all-electric airplane made history by being the biggest plane ever to take off and fly solely on electric power. The Cessna Caravan 208B is much smaller, able to seat only nine passengers (and the test plane had only one seat inside for the pilot). It also spent just 30 minutes in the air on the 28th of May before landing. But it’s a beginning. We’ve heard so much about electric cars and look at how fast they’ve developed over the last decade.
One benefit to the electric option is the running cost. To fly the Cessna cost just $6. Had it run on conventional aviation fuel it is estimated that it would’ve been $3-400! Not only do they not need fuel, but the maintenance for electric motors is far less intensive. However it is unlikely that this will be part of the future for large, long-haul flights. The energy density of batteries can’t compete with hydrogen or even the fossil fuels we use today. But there is still a future for them.
As of February 2020, there were 170 electric aircraft projects around the world, 50% more than the previous year. Many of them envision a future of urban taxis, private planes, or aircraft built for package delivery.
It is refreshing to see these developments, especially as aviation is scrutinised for its carbon footprint. One day you’ll be able to take a trip anywhere in the world with a clean conscience!