Can Hydrogen Save The Airline Industry’s Fuel Challenges? It’s Got a Way to Go.
CNN – Get ready for a lot more fuel-efficient planes, if they go forward with a government plan to deregulate the hydrogen aviation market.
President Trump’s administration proposed cutting its regulatory oversight of hydrogen-powered planes and engines Tuesday, as part of a goal to simplify an increasingly complex law on airliners’ emissions, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The final rule, to be published in the Federal Register later this month, would deregulate the market for “hybrid or electric aircraft that run on hydrogen-methane fuel,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said, according to a White House statement.
The hydrogen-fueling market has not fully matured, but “it is growing,” the White House said.
The concept of replacing a plane’s fuselage and engines with a hydrogen-powered airframe has gained some traction as consumers shift away from fossil fuels.
Chao promoted the use of sustainable fuels to reduce America’s growing oil dependence and reduce carbon emissions.
But until hydrogen airliners gain popularity, reducing the airliners’ reliance on liquid fossil fuels will take several years.
Aerosolized H2O can be refilled at a hydrogen fueling station, where the gas drips down a nozzle and out the other side. It is similar to the process used for home natural gas furnaces.
In 2019, California is planning to allow a pilot project to test flights powered by H2 fuel in urban areas in Southern California, according to the NERA Economic Consulting Co.
That year, the first low-income homes in Des Moines, Iowa, will use their streetlights to power the electricity that powers hydrogen-powered garbage trucks. The hydrogen will give the garbage trucks enough power to respond to a homeowner’s call for a pickup.
But all told, it’s still tough to get hydrogen to work. Fueling stations have not been established yet and space is limited, using a case study by BiofuelTech Power in Washington, D.C.
Although the cost of hydrogen is on the rise, it’s still far less expensive than the unleaded gasoline a Boeing 737 carries, said Matthew Lupow, president of Liquid Hydrogen Market Group.
But the total price of the hydrogen per gallon of filling is much higher compared to the fuel cost of an unleaded jet fuel, meaning the cost of hydrogen could increase dramatically, Lupow said.
One concern is that electric batteries will be more efficient over time, making the alternative fuel less attractive as a transportation fuel, said Drexel University professor Joe Lawson.
More fuel efficiency and energy could make electric planes more competitive with planes powered by hydrogen, but “electricity coming from solar or wind or nuclear will take a very long time to provide” as an alternative, Lawson said.
That puts the power plant or a battery in the current fuel mix at a disadvantage, but hydrogen could actually help, said Scott Eckert, director of the Energy and Research Center at Princeton University.
Right now, people must transfer hydrogen from a car or truck to a fueling station, or they must pressurize a storage tank with compressed hydrogen.
Hydrogen refueling stations can be a carbon emissions-free solution.
Beyond fuel, hydrogen could also be produced domestically.
The United States has more solar and wind power than it can use on an annual basis, so “we have all the resources we need to build the infrastructure and to build the cars” for electric vehicles, Lawson said.
But experts said a production goal of 1.5 million cars per year would be a major turnaround from current sales, with annual sales today barely exceeding 300,000.
Passenger vehicles continue to account for about 75% of global car sales, according to the World Energy Council.