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This hydrogen-powered jet concept produces no emissions

A UK-backed research group has unveiled the design for a liquid hydrogen-powered airliner that could one day fly people without producing carbon emissions

Passengers could one day fly anywhere in the world with no carbon emissions and just one stop on board a concept aircraft unveiled by the Aerospace Technology Institute.
Passengers could one day fly anywhere in the world with no carbon emissions and just one stop on board a concept aircraft unveiled by the Aerospace Technology Institute. (Courtesy: ATI)

A UK-backed research group on Monday unveiled a design for a liquid hydrogen-powered airliner that is theoretically capable of matching the performance of current midsize aircraft without producing carbon emissions.

The FlyZero concept envisions a plane carrying 279 passengers non-stop from London to San Francisco at the same speed and comfort as today, the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) said in a statement released on Monday. The group, a partnership between the UK government and industry, is meant to accelerate high-risk projects that will benefit home-grown aerospace firms, a Bloomberg report explains.

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Hydrogen propulsion is seen as one of the most promising technologies for achieving carbon-neutral commercial aviation. It is, however, expensive and will take years to develop the planes and build infrastructure such as airport refueling capacity.

The UK, which hosted the COP26 climate summit in November, is funding new technologies to help create aerospace jobs while meeting its climate targets. The government has committed 1.95 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) of funding to ATI since its start in 2013 through 2026, an amount to be matched by industry, the Bloomberg report adds. 

“These designs could define the future of aerospace and aviation,” UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in the statement. “By working with industry, we are showing that truly carbon free flight could be possible, with hydrogen a frontrunner to replace conventional fossil fuels.”

ATI said it expects hydrogen aircraft to be operating from the mid-2030s, offering better economics than conventional planes. By early 2022, the FlyZero project will publish detailed concepts for regional, narrow-body and midsize aircraft, with technology roadmaps, market and economic reports and a sustainability assessment, the group said in the statement. 

The midsize aircraft would store hydrogen at minus 250 degrees Celsius (minus 418 degrees Fahrenheit) in cryogenic fuel tanks at the rear of the plane and in two smaller “cheek” tanks along the forward fuselage to keep the aircraft balanced.

The aircraft’s 54-metre wingspan carries two turbofan engines powered by hydrogen combustion. The other on-board advanced technologies include wings without fuel tanks (dry wings), hydrogen tanks, cryogenic fuel systems, fuel cells and electrical power systems and hydrogen gas turbines, the ATI statement explains.

The aviation industry has put its focus on so-called sustainable fuel, which can be blended into the kerosene that powers current aircraft, and battery powered flight, which is limited to smaller craft like air taxis because of the weight of cells, the Bloomberg report adds.

(With inputs from Bloomberg)

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