There are currently two ways in which hydrogen could be used to power aircraft propulsion.
The first is through direct combustion in hydrogen-based jet engines. This approach would require minimal changes to an existing aircraft’s gas turbines, allowing hydrogen to be burned directly to generate the power needed for flight. This technique would result in zero carbon emissions but still produce some nitrogen oxide emissions.
Recently, there have been great leaps of development in fuel cell technology, making them leading options for carbon-free air travel. The hydrogen fuel cell works by creating a chemical reaction from combining hydrogen and oxygen. The energy produced from this is used to generate electricity to power the aircraft. The only by-product of this process is water.
Many of the current plans for building hydrogen-powered planes involve a hybrid of direct combustion and fuel cell technology. This would significantly reduce the emissions generated by the aviation industry.
Once proven to be scalable, the uptake of this technology will be quick, as it involves converting a traditional aircraft to a hydrogen run system. This means significant players in the industry will be much more likely to embrace hydrogen because the infrastructure already exists — meaning new aeroplanes do not need to be made.
Through engine modification, we can save billions of dollars and streamline the journey to true decarbonising.