Is the Global Hydrogen Aircraft Market Taking-off? The shifting focus of the aviation industry towards de-carbonization, the benefits of hydrogen aircraft over traditional one and growing number of air passengers will augment the growth of the global hydrogen aircraft market

By Shrabona Ghosh

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The rising government initiative to reduce carbon footprint and promote the adoption of sustainable and eco-friendly commute solutions is significantly fostering the growth of the hydrogen aircraft market. The global aviation industry contributes around 2.5 per cent of the total carbon emission across the globe. On November 8th, Airbus's first flight using hydrogen as the sole fuel source, flew over Nevada in the United States. With this, the company kicked off a test campaign that will conclude in a contrail-measuring mission in early 2024.

Airbus' ambition is to bring to market the world's first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035. To get there, its ZEROe project is exploring a variety of configurations and technologies, as well as preparing the ecosystem that will produce and supply the hydrogen.

"In December 2020, Airbus shared with the public a 100 per cent fuel cell powered aircraft concept. This concept was a 100-seat aircraft capable of 1,000 nautical miles and it had six engines. 1.2 megawatts is the power needed by one of these engines at take-off. So we are ground-testing a fully electric propulsion system capable of producing the take off power of a large commercial aircraft," mentioned Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP ZEROe Aircraft in a blog.

Similarly, in September 2023, tests carried out on behalf of Rolls-Royce and short-haul airline Easyjet have found that 100 per cent hydrogen can be combusted in an aircraft engine that is producing maximum thrust, enough to ensure the plane's take-off. In its blog, Rolls-Royce mentioned that the last 20-years have seen several demonstrator aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which has the potential to be a substitute for electric batteries in power hybrid or all-electric small commuter aircraft, where they can offer greater energy storage and faster refueling. There are, however, many technology challenges to overcome before these systems are commercially available. Hydrogen fuel cells will probably be limited to medium to low power applications where the power requirements are lower.

Technical challenges are considered to hinder the overall growth of the hydrogen aircraft market. Transitioning from the traditional aviation fuels to hydrogen-powered aviation mode involves intricate complexities such as designing efficient hydrogen fuel cells and propulsion systems demands skilled engineering. Moreover, lack of established infrastructure for producing, transporting and refueling hydrogen at airports, needs substantial investments. All these challenges create a major restraint for the market.

"While hydrogen can also be used directly as a fuel in a gas turbine, it is likely to start in the shorter haul segments, where the aircraft range is shorter. Given volume limitations attached to the storage of hydrogen and the limited power density of fuel cells, for long range, SAF fueling gas turbines will remain the most likely solution moving forward. Hydrogen will offer options in shorter range segments and has the potential to progress onto larger segments, as the technology is proven and hydrogen fuel becomes more readily available. To support this, we are investigating the feasibility of hydrogen-burning gas turbine engines, whilst continuing to promote SAF as the more mature technology," Rolls-Royce said in its blog.

The shifting focus of the aviation industry towards de-carbonization, the benefits of hydrogen aircraft over traditional one and growing number of air passengers are the most prominent factors that are expected to augment the growth of the global hydrogen aircraft market. The global hydrogen aircraft market size was valued at USD 190 million in 2022 and is expected to hit over USD 2,148.53 million by 2032 with a registered CAGR of 27.5% from 2023 to 2032, according to a report by Precedence Research.

Although it is estimated that there may be functioning commercial aircraft powered by hydrogen by 2030, it is unlikely that the technology will be widespread commercial before 2040. Even if hydrogen aircraft are utilized, they will initially be focused on short and medium-term flights, since the technology and cost restraints will facilitate flying short distances only. "Furthermore, there is a political push for sectors to reduce their carbon emissions but, soon, the aviation sector's share of global emissions is likely to increase. CO2 emissions per passenger have fallen over the last 30 years but the volume of flights has increased, meaning that overall emissions are up, and this trajectory is likely to increase as the pandemic abates. There will be increasing pressure and regulations to reduce emissions in line with national and international targets," said Global Data in its research.

The IATA forecasts that the number of global air passengers will double by 2037, and this will require a significant increase in aviation infrastructure. The IATA acknowledges that aviation is one of the hardest sectors to implement alternative fuels due to the power and safety requirements but suggests that the technology is developing in the right direction.

Shrabona Ghosh

Correspondent

A journalist with a cosmopolitan mindset. I lead a project called 'Corporate Innovations' wherein I cover corporates across verticals and try to tell stories on innovations. Apart from this, I write industry pieces on FMCGs, auto, aviation, 5G and defense. 

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