“On a typical day 1,300 planes take off and land at Heathrow Airport, and keeping that going requires around 20 million litres of jet fuel every day,” reports the BBC. “That’s the equivalent of filling up your car around 400,000 times.
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“But, when it comes to fuel, airports around the world are having to have a major rethink…”
To be of any use to the aviation industry, hydrogen needs to be in its liquid form, which involves chilling it to minus 253C. Handling a liquid at that kind of temperature is immensely challenging. Given the chance, liquid hydrogen will “boil-off” and escape as a gas — potentially becoming a hazard. So tanks, pipes and hoses all have to be extra-insulated to keep the liquid cold.
France’s Air Liquide has a lot of experience in this area. For around 50 years it has been supplying cryogenic hydrogen to the Ariane rockets of the European Space Agency (ESA)… Over the past three years, in partnership with Airbus and France’s biggest airport operator, Group ADP, Air Liquide has been investigating the potential of hydrogen in the aviation business. It is also part of the H2Fly consortium which this summer successfully flew an aircraft using liquid hydrogen. For Air Liquide, it was an opportunity to test systems for fuelling a hydrogen aircraft…
However, installing the equipment needed to store and distribute hydrogen at airports will not be cheap. The consultancy Bain & Company estimates it could cost as much as a billion dollars per airport. One start-up, Universal Hydrogen, says it has a solution… The company has developed special tanks to hold liquid hydrogen (UH calls them modules), which can then be trucked to the airport. The modules are designed to slot straight into the aircraft, where they can be plugged into the propulsion system. No need for pipes, hoses and pumps.
The modules are extremely well insulated and can keep the hydrogen in its liquid form for four days. Two modules would hold 360kg of hydrogen and would be able to fly an aircraft 500 miles, plus an extra 45 minutes of flight time in reserve.