Taking Off to New Heights: A Transformative Year for Aviation with Hydrogen Electrification

The aviation industry accounts for about 2.5 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions according to our World in Data and a higher percentage when considering the other non-CO2 emissions that also impact the climate. In contrast to many other industries, like production of renewable energy and electric cars, it has been difficult to find solutions to decarbonize the aviation industry. Hydrogen-electric solutions are therefore crucial to achieve net zero emissions.

As the world continues to grapple with the need to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the aviation industry has been under increasing pressure to find sustainable solutions for air travel. One promising technology that has gained significant momentum in recent years is hydrogen electrification. In the past year, the aviation industry has witnessed a transformative shift towards utilizing hydrogen as a clean source of energy, opening up new possibilities for a greener future of air travel.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, has long been recognized as a potential energy carrier that can be produced using renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, without producing any harmful emissions. In aviation, hydrogen can be used as a fuel to generate electricity through fuel cells, which can power electric motors to propel aircraft. This eliminates the need for fossil fuels and significantly reduces carbon emissions, making hydrogen electrification a promising solution for sustainable aviation.

Government initiatives

In addition to successful test flights, there has been a surge in investment and partnerships in the hydrogen electrification space. Governments, aviation companies, and research institutions have been actively collaborating and investing in research and development to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen as a clean energy source for aviation. For example, the European Commission has set ambitious targets to produce hydrogen from renewable sources and promote its use in aviation as part of its Green Deal initiative. Major aviation companies have also formed partnerships with hydrogen production and technology companies to advance the development of hydrogen-electric aircraft. These collaborations are driving innovation and creating a supportive ecosystem for hydrogen electrification in the aviation industry.

Furthermore, regulatory frameworks and industry standards are being developed to support the integration of hydrogen-electric aircraft into the aviation ecosystem. Aviation authorities and regulatory bodies are actively working on guidelines and certification processes to ensure the safe and efficient operation of hydrogen-powered aircraft. Industry standards are being established for hydrogen production, storage, and distribution, creating a robust infrastructure to support the growth of hydrogen electrification in aviation. These regulatory and standardization efforts are crucial in building trust and confidence in hydrogen-electric aviation and accelerating its adoption.

EU initiative to develop sustainable aircraft

PowerCell is part of the EU’s Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking, which aims to develop the next generation sustainable aircraft by developing innovative technologies to cut CO2 emissions as well as other greenhouse gases and to reduce noise. The Clean Aviation Joint Undertaking comprises about 20 projects with a total budget exceeding EUR 700 million. The aim is to support the EU Green Deal and its ambition to make the continent climate-neutral by 2050.

In January 2023, we were selected to join the Newborn project, and PowerCell will together with other companies co-develop an aerospace-qualified multi-megawatt hydrogen-powered propulsion system. PowerCell will bring its knowledge and state-of-the-art fuel cell technology to the project and develop a new 300 kW product platform.

Industry initiatives

One of the significant developments in hydrogen electrification in the aviation industry in the past year has been the successful maiden flights of hydrogen-powered aircraft. Several companies, including major aviation players like Airbus, Boeing, and ZeroAvia, have successfully conducted test flights of hydrogen-electric planes, demonstrating the feasibility of this technology. For instance, in January 19, 2023, ZeroAvia successfully completed its first flight with its dornier 228 hydrogen electric aircraft, marking a significant milestone in the pursuit of carbon-neutral air travel. These successful test flights have generated excitement and optimism about the potential of hydrogen electrification to revolutionize aviation and make air travel more environmentally sustainable.

PowerCell’s concept Industrialized Innovation

With high specific energy hydrogen-electric powertrains are an efficient and scalable solution for zero-emission aviation. The aviation industry has extremely stringent requirements on reliability and performance in relation to weight and volume.

By using the same core technologies and technology platforms in all systems, we can offer not only the economies of scale of industrialized solutions, but also clear specifications for critical product characteristics such as performance, dimensions and weight. Added to this is our ability to quickly tailor our solutions to application-specific customer requirements and preferences in terms of both performance and integration. This combination strengthens our competitive offering and it sets us apart from many competitors. We call this Industrialized Innovation.

However, despite the significant progress made in the past year, there are still challenges to overcome for hydrogen electrification in aviation. One of the main challenges is the cost of producing and storing hydrogen. While the cost of producing hydrogen from renewable sources has decreased in recent years, it is still relatively high compared to traditional fossil fuels. Additionally, the infrastructure for hydrogen production, storage, and distribution needs to be developed.