Today aviation is responsible for 3.6% of polluting emissions into the atmosphere. The fuel burned by planes, kerosene, allows these giants to move from the sky at a high cost to the environment. Hence, solutions are sought for the transformation of air transport. The most likely at the moment are hydrogen engines.
This gas under pressure, which has already been tested in cars, trains and even ships, could also enter aeroplanes. Its structure allows storing a large amount of energy, such as that needed by aircraft to fly long distances without stopping to refuel. A report on the potential of aviation hydrogen engines estimates that such aircraft could be introduced in 2035.
On this date, only the smallest aircraft would be available. Those who make distances of less than 3,000 kilometres. They will be aircraft with an electric motor, but with a fuel cell, which will convert hydrogen into electrical current. This process involves a separation of the electron from the hydrogen molecules by a transfer between anode and cathode.
It will be the simplest engine and will basically work the same way as a hydrogen car does. With this formula, all major cities in Europe could be connected. In an ambitious scenario, 40% of European air transport could be powered by hydrogen engines by 2050.
Long-distance air transport, however, will require other types of hydrogen engines. In this case, electric thrusters cannot be used and it would be necessary to burn the hydrogen. It is what rockets do and it is what planes could do for distances of 7,000 kilometres. You could even beat the speed of sound with these boosters.
Green fuel for long distances
Electric motors are configured as the favourites for regular use. They will be the kings in day-to-day transport, on urban land and in electrified environments. But for long distances, even with a car, they pose difficulties.
This is why the solution for long distances has been sought in hydrogen engines. Toyota has already designed the second generation of its hydrogen model. Although there are still obstacles for this type of vehicle to circulate on the roads. The main one is the refuelling network, as was the case with the electric ones. But this has an added drawback. Gas under pressure is difficult to store and transport.
However, progress has been made on several fronts. There are already hydrogen trains, like the ones Germany has put into operation. Even shipping has proposed the storage of this gas under pressure to use it as fuel. Although the biggest challenge for the entry of this element is in the planes.