There is no doubt that the aviation industry urgently needs climate-friendly alternatives to burning kerosene. However, there is no consensus on how this can be achieved. One thing is clear: it will not be as easy as with a car. Because battery-powered electric planes can only travel a few hundred kilometers. This is clearly not enough to represent all international air traffic. So-called climate-neutral e-fuels are already being tested. However, its production requires huge amounts of green energy. Critics therefore do not find the approach particularly efficient. The third alternative is the fuel cell. In fact, almost all industry giants – from Rolls Royce to MTU to Airbus – now operate here. Technologically, however, a German startup could be the most advanced. Because H2Fly has been doing test flights since 2008 and has therefore built up a lot of expertise. The company’s objectives are therefore ambitious.
40 to 45 percent of European flights could be climate neutral
From 2025, the first smaller machines will run commercially with hydrogen. These private jets could each transport four to five people. At the same time, however, a larger regional aircraft with up to 40 seats must also be ready. The target range would then be approximately 2000 kilometers. However, before this aircraft can carry real passengers, there is still a complex approval process to go through. If all goes well, the larger hydrogen aircraft is therefore unlikely to hit the market before the end of the decade. But then the potential is enormous: between 40 and 45 percent of European air traffic could be handled emission-free in this way. However, we are still a long way from that. The company’s current prototype was built in 2012. Accordingly, the drive has a power output of only 100 kilowatts. This is still far too little to achieve the desired ranges. More than 1.5 megawatts are needed.
A new test aircraft is already being planned
However, the technological advances of the past ten years could help here. An example of this: the start-up, together with Air Liquide, has developed a new hydrogen tank that can store four to seven times as much hydrogen as previously available products with the same weight. In fact, the engineers have already tested several new components in the lab. So you can be sure that the desired performance increase is achievable in the total composition. This must be proven by building a new test aircraft. The funds needed for this come from the federal government, among others, which has made some thirty million euros available. In order for the hydrogen aircraft to actually take off regularly, two other conditions must be met. On the one hand, a lot of green electricity is needed to produce the green hydrogen. On the other hand, airports have to adapt their infrastructure accordingly. Experts estimate the costs for this at around 300 billion euros worldwide.