A large, commercially available hydrogen-powered aircraft has made a successful flight over the skies of Bedfordshire in a world first.
The company behind the maiden flight is a US-UK company called ZeroAvia, which hopes commercial aviation can be emissions-free by 2023.
The successful 20-minute flight included a taxi, take-off, full circuit and landing, and will be followed by a 250-mile flight from the Orkney Islands later this year.
A six-seater M-class Piper plane made a 20-minute flight from Cranfield Airport in Bedfordshire yesterday
It is believed to be the first flight of a ‘commercially available’ aircraft while powered by hydrogen fuel cells
The company behind the maiden flight is a US-UK company called ZeroAvia, which hopes commercial aviation can be emission-free by 2023. Its research and development facilities are located at Cranfield Airport , which is owned by Cranfield University.
The six-seater Piper M-class aircraft took off from Cranfield Airport, which is also the site of ZeroAvia’s research and development facilities.
Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity to power a battery and an engine by mixing hydrogen and oxygen – which is supplied by the air – via a chemical reaction.
The only waste produced by this process is water, unlike traditional aviation which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Previous research has found that theft is responsible for about 3.5% of humanity’s contribution to climate change.
About two-thirds come from contrails and other non-CO2 emissions.
ZeroAvia Managing Director Val Miftakhov said: “It’s hard to put into words what this means for our team, but also for anyone interested in zero emission flying.
“While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells as the power source, the size of this commercially available aircraft shows that paying passengers could board a truly zero-emission flight very soon.
Last year, the company’s Hyflyer project received £ 2.7million in government funding.
While the company claims this flight was revolutionary, other examples of hydrogen-powered aircraft exist.
In 2016, an aircraft called HY4, which can carry four people, flew from Stuttgart Airport in Germany powered only by hydrogen fuel cells.
The HY4 was developed by researchers from the German Aerospace Center alongside “industrial and research partners”.
But the unique aspect of the ZeroAvia flight is that the Piper M class is commercially available, while HY4 is not.
Aviation Minister Robert Courts said: “Aviation is a hotbed of innovation and ZeroAvia’s fantastic technology brings us all closer to a sustainable future for air travel.
Hydrogen is emerging as one of the most promising avenues for the transportation industry as the world attempts to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
On Monday, Airbus unveiled concepts for three hydrogen-powered planes that it said could enter service by 2035.
The planes are called the turbojet, the turboprop, and the mixed-wing body.
The design of the turbojet most closely resembles the current image of a regular airplane, with an engine sitting on each wing and a standard fuselage.
It will have a capacity of 200 passengers and, according to Airbus, will be able to travel 2,300 miles without needing to refuel.
A graphic illustrating the impact of aviation emissions on the environment. Contrails warm the planet by reflecting heat back to Earth, although they have a lesser cooling effect by reflecting sunlight back into space
On Monday, Airbus unveiled the concepts of three hydrogen-powered planes that it believes could enter service by 2035. The planes are called the turbojet, turboprop and mixed-wing body.
Although this does not allow flights across the Atlantic, it covers other transcontinental routes.
However, the turboprop is designed for short haul trips and operates on propellers.
Although her body size is similar, although smaller, she looks a lot like a traditional craft.
However, the propeller machine will have half the capacity of its big brother, the turbojet, with room for just over 100 people and a maximum travel of around 1,150 miles.
The most distinctive and radical concept is that of the “mixed-wing body” aircraft, the wings of which merge with the main body of the aircraft in a V-shape.
This has similar stats to the turbojet, but its bizarre shape opens up a host of possibilities with the wide fuselage, which Airbus could use for more cabin space or for more hydrogen fuel.
It closely resembles a similar design made by its aviation rival KLM, whose Flying V design has started scale testing.
The Dutch machine is named after Gibson’s famous electric guitar and will carry up to 314 passengers, some of them housed in its wings. It uses regular petroleum-derived fuel, but its design will make it 20% more efficient.
But planes are not the only means of transport to see hydrogen as its future.
Last year it was announced that hydrogen trains would be operational in the UK in early 2021.
The trains, which are virtually silent, have been nicknamed “Breeze” and can travel at speeds of up to 140 km / h.
A fleet of electric trains built in 1988 by British Rail will be the first to undergo the conversion.
French company Alstom is working alongside Eversholt Rail on this initiative and unveiled a prototype in early 2019 while it was carrying passengers in Germany.
Trains can travel about 1000 km (620 miles) on a single tank of hydrogen, similar to the range of diesel trains.
Over 100 of the locomotives (pictured) are said to be currently in development before being deployed in two years. A prototype was unveiled by Alstom earlier this year while carrying passengers in Germany
A fleet of class 321 trains (photo) will be converted for the project. Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity to power a battery and an engine by mixing hydrogen and oxygen. The only emissions are steam and water and excess energy is stored in lithium ion batteries on board the train.
HOW DO HYDROGEN BATTERIES WORK?
Hydrogen cells create electricity to power a battery and an engine by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in specially treated plates, which are combined to form the fuel cell.
Fuel cells and batteries have allowed engineers to drastically reduce these components to even fit perfectly into the interior of a family car, although they are also commonly used to power buses and other larger vehicles.
Oxygen is collected from the air through outlets, usually in the grid, and the hydrogen is stored in aluminum-lined fuel tanks, which automatically seal in the event of an accident to prevent leaks.
These ingredients are fused together, releasing electricity and water that can be used as byproducts and making this technology one of the quietest and most environmentally friendly available.
Reducing the amount of platinum used in the cell has made fuel cells less expensive, but the use of the rare metal has limited the spread of their use.
Recent research has suggested, however, that hydrogen fuel cell cars may one day challenge electric cars in the race for pollution-free roads – but only if more stations are built to power them.
Fuel cell cars can be refueled as quickly as gasoline cars and can also travel further between fill-ups.
Gas stations cost up to $ 2 million to build, so companies are reluctant to build them unless other fuel cell cars are on the road.
The US Department of Energy lists only 34 public hydrogen refueling stations in the country; all but three are in California.
According to Information Trends, there were 6,475 FCVs worldwide at the end of 2017.
More than half were registered in California, placing the United States (53 percent) in the top spot for FCV adoption.
Japan is in second place with 38%, while Europe is at 9%.