The introduction of hydrogen aircraft from 2035 will limit CO2 emissions, but not only reduce the CO2 footprint of the aviation sector, according to a study by the NGO International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) published on Wednesday, January 26.
The hydrogen engine does not emit any pollution or greenhouse gases because it produces water vapour. On the other hand, this assumes that the hydrogen itself is ‘clean’, ie produced by electrolysis of water using electricity from renewable sources (green hydrogen).
If long-haul flights cannot be powered by hydrogen, in particular because of the volume that would be needed for on-board storage, “Hydrogen-powered aircraft are viable on short and medium-haul flights and could virtually eliminate CO2 emissions”says the ICCT.
These planes, which would have a shorter range than planes that burn on kerosene, could account for nearly a third of global passenger traffic from 2035, the date when the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which made the aircraft, will start using hydrogen. “important strategic axis”.
The ICCT examined two hydrogen-powered aircraft projects: a single-aisle twin-engine A320 class and an ATR-72 regional turboprop aircraft.
The twin-jet could carry 165 passengers over 3,400 kilometers, representing 71% of the single-aisle market, the turboprop 70 passengers over 1,400 kilometers, representing 97% of its market.
The aviation sector carried 4.5 billion passengers in 2019 and produced 900 million tons of CO2, or nearly 3% of global emissions. This is expected to double by 2050.
If all eligible airways were served by hydrogen aircraft by 2050, this would reduce air transport emissions by 31% or 628 million tons of CO2. This would reduce the sector’s carbon footprint to expected levels by 2035, when it enters service, the study said.
“A less ambitious scenario of using 20-40% hydrogen-powered aircraft on these routes would avoid 126-251 million tons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, representing 6-12% of transport emissions. passenger airline »notes the ICCT.
The study does not take into account the other levers that are expected to reduce the sector’s footprint (technological developments in aircraft, better management of the air traffic control system, introduction of sustainable aviation fuels).
Green hydrogen will be cheaper than future sustainable synthetic fuels, but will cost more than aviation kerosene and will therefore require financial support from governments.