Hydrogen will power the next generation of planes

Hydrogen will power the next generation of planes


When back in June WTM London hosted the symposium on decarbonising aviation we were amongst the first to argue that flying could escape the global warming critique. Flying is not the problem; the fossil fuel used to power flight is the problem. There is now an alternative. The travel and tourism industry should expect the aviation industry to modernise and clean up their act. Our sector should press them to do so.

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Back in April 2019, I wrote here that the aviation industry is our sector’s Achilles’ heel. There have been experiments with biomass and waste to create SAFs (Sustainable Aviation Fuels), perhaps better described as lower carbon fuels. However, SAFs cannot substantially decarbonise the industry. Carbon offsetting is also too good to be true. While some of these carbon offset projects may do good in the world, they do not decarbonise aviation. I have planted trees. Its is a good thing to do, but I do not kid myself that this absolves me of guilt for contributing to climate change through flying.

The WTM’s symposium on decarbonising aviation held back in June with Breda University demonstrated that the technology is viable, the alternative is within reach. McKinsey, a week later, launched a report on hydrogen powered aviation. Also in June, the French government set the industry a target of launching a carbon-neutral successor to the market-leading A320 by 2035, and to have demonstrated it by 2028.  In the UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the Jet Zero Council tasked to “ensure that zero-carbon transatlantic passenger flights are possible “within a generation”.

In July the European Commission launched its Hydrogen Strategy. As Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission said “What you need for hydrogen to be a successful energy source and storage facility in the future: you need the production to be within the price range, you need transport and storage facilities, and you need the market,” he went on “With our strategy we want to stimulate all three.”

On 21st July Glenn Llewellyn VP Zero Emissions Technology at Airbus also backed hydrogen. “We believe we need to position the aviation industry to be powered by renewable energy, and hydrogen is a very good surrogate for allowing us to do that.”  Currently, hydrogen looks promising for aircraft up to 200 passengers, but SAF or power-to-liquid fuels might prove to be better options for larger aircraft.”

Aviation Week earlier this month concluded that “from 2030 onward to 2050, renewable hydrogen production technologies should reach maturity, the strategy says. Hydrogen and hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels should penetrate more widely into hard-to-decarbonise sectors including aviation and shipping.”

There will be a panel discussion on the transition to decarbonised aviation at WTM London in November. Over the next few months, we shall be recording interviews with industry leaders about how rapidly the new decarbonised fuel will be introduced to power aviation and to identify the barriers and challenges which need to be overcome.

References and sources available online

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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