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Potential Large Scale Solutions

February 7, 2021
Harold Goodwin
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Global strategy consulting firm Roland Berger predicts that if other industries de-carbonize in line with some projections, aviation could account for up to 24% of global emissions by 2050 unless there is a significant technological shift.

They identify three options:

  1. sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs)
  2. electric aircraft: Hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) aircraft could offer a “true zero” solution for GHG emissions as the only output of fuel cells is water vapour. Studies indicate that hydrogen fuel cell aircraft would be 20-40% more efficient than hydrogen combustion designs. Could benefit from the rapidly developing electric powertrain supply chain.
  3. hydrogen propulsion through hydrogen combustion in a modified jet engine, less disruptive to current operational systems

The March 2020 Roland Berger study identified five key barriers to hydrogen technology
1. A redesign of much of the aircraft, from the propulsion system to fuel storage.
2. Advancements in light-weighting storage tanks and cryogenic cooling systems, in order to take advantage of hydrogen’s high energy density.
3. A significant ramp-up in “green” hydrogen and/or carbon capture and storage (CCS) to increase the share of emissions-free hydrogen production.
4. Hydrogen infrastructure improvements in fuel delivery to airports and airport refuelling.
5, A reduction in the price of production methods for “green” hydrogen in order to compete with kerosene on a cost basis.

The full report has on page 19 a very useful comparison of the relative merits of using hydrogen for combustion and fuel cells.

Looking forward  they forecast: " the emergence of three different technological segments of aircraft with different sizes and ranges."
1. smaller aircraft with shorter ranges will likely become all-electric, with battery gravimetric densities expected to achieve the minimum thresholds to cater
for these missions.
2.  larger, long-haul aircraft can be expected to have to rely upon Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), as all-electric, hybrid-electric or hydrogen solutions will face
gravimetric and volumetric power density challenges at the required weights and ranges.
3. between these two extremes, regional and narrowbody/Middle-of-the-Market aircraft will likely be the battleground where hydrogen will compete against hybrid-electric.

They conclude: "Executives making investment decisions on future propulsion technologies should thus seriously consider allocating resources to explore the potential of hydrogen technology, diversify their technology risk, and help overcome the barriers to hydrogen propulsion.


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