H2-powered aviation and its reliance on green hydrogen infrastructure – Review and research gaps

Hydrogen-powered aircraft will not take off without H2 supply infrastructure.

Since the report on “hydrogen-powered aviation” by Clean Sky Joint Undertaking & Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), the topic has gained strong momentum (again) in the last 2.5 years. Airbus Group Inc, ZeroAvia, Universal Hydrogen, H2FLY, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions and many others have already started to develop H2 aircraft technology. However, there are few projects and a major research gap regarding the H2 supply infrastructure for such H2-powered aircraft.

For this reason, the following overview paper was written on the economic role of green H2 infrastructure for H2-powered aviation. Together with Daniel Silberhorn and Thomas Zill from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), a holistic operating cost model for liquid H2-powered commercial aircraft was developed. Based on two new H2 aircraft designs and a comprehensive literature review on H2 supply costs, all relevant cost factors were investigated.
These are the 3 main findings:
(1) The competitiveness of H2-powered aircraft is highly dependent on the cost of LH2 supply – mainly due to the good availability of low-cost renewable energy.
(2) Electrolysis and H2 liquefaction costs could account for >80% of total LH2 supply costs
(3) 5 research areas around LH2 supply should be addressed in future work.

This paper, is not an initial answer to the exact cost of flying H2 aircraft. Rather, it is intended to provide relevant analytical frameworks and highlight the importance of research and development for an aviation-specific H2 supply infrastructure, since supply costs can have such a large impact on the economics of H2 aviation.

Open Access Article: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319921043184