Who is driving the push for hydrogen aircraft? Airlines are among the biggest proponents. The industry is notoriously competitive, and among their biggest cost is fuel. The price of jet fuel is subject to price swings, which translates into millions of dollars in uncertainty and risk. On top of the cost of fuel, airlines are focused on efficiency. If hydrogen is physically lighter than existing fuel options, it can lead to significant cost savings at large scale.
Also driving the change for airlines is the bad press the industry receives around emissions. Aircraft account for more than 2% of total global CO2 emissions, and those emissions are expected to grow in the coming decades. Hydrogen as an aircraft fuel, on the other hand, can take two forms: hydrogen combustion, and hydrogen fuel cells. The former releases 90% less NOx — a primary particulate air pollution — as compared to burning kerosene, and the only byproduct of the latter is water.
But what about electric airplanes? Isn’t there a reason electric automobiles are far outpacing hydrogen cars? Yes, and the answer is infrastructure. Converting over 100,000 U.S. gas stations is a massive challenge, but focusing on only the highest-volume airports can quickly have an outsized impact. Additionally, equipment weight is a much bigger factor for airplanes than cars, and battery technology still isn’t ready to take to the skies; but hydrogen is.