Hydrogen fuels aviation decarbonisation despite hurdles

Hydrogen fuels aviation decarbonisation despite hurdles

Environmental benefits clash with storage, regulatory challenges.

The shift towards hydrogen as a primary fuel source represents a crucial step in decarbonizing aviation, yet adoption challenges linger, especially concerning storage, transportation, and regulatory approvals.

Shantanu Gangakhedkar, Senior Consultant in Aerospace & Defense Practice at Frost & Sullivan, said that the primary benefit of utilising hydrogen in aviation lies in its byproduct—water vapour—unlike traditional jet fuels that emit substantial greenhouse gases. 

"Using hydrogen as a fuel...is much cleaner and it helps in decarbonizing the industry," Gangakhedkar explained, underlining the stark contrast between the environmental impacts of conventional fuels and the potential of hydrogen.

However, the path to commercialising hydrogen-powered aircraft is complex and filled with technological and regulatory obstacles. As of 2024, hydrogen aviation technology remains largely in the testing and prototyping stages, with widespread commercial use not expected until at least 2035 to 2040. 

This timeline reflects the intricate balance between evolving technology and stringent regulatory standards needed to ensure safety and efficacy in commercial aviation.

One of the most significant challenges in deploying hydrogen as a fuel is its storage and transportation, particularly on board aircraft. Hydrogen requires specialised, large tanks for storage, presenting logistical difficulties, especially in airborne environments. 

"The one which is troubling almost everyone is the storage and transportation," Gangakhedkar noted, highlighting the technical hurdles that need to be overcome to make hydrogen a viable fuel alternative.

Moreover, the infrastructure required for hydrogen fuel—ranging from production to refuelling stations—demands substantial investment. Establishing this infrastructure is a monumental task that extends beyond technological development to include extensive planning, funding, and construction of new facilities specifically designed for hydrogen use.

Regulatory and certification issues further complicate the transition to hydrogen-powered aviation. Achieving the necessary certifications and regulatory approvals is a time-consuming process, often taking longer than the technological development itself. 

This aspect underscores the importance of aligning technological advancements with regulatory standards to ensure that hydrogen-powered aircraft meet all safety and operational requirements.

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