A total of seventeen Dutch companies and institutions are joining forces to develop a medium-sized aircraft that gets its energy from liquid hydrogen. A prototype will be tested in three years; around 2028, the first specimens will be able to fly.
Aviation has, to say the least, been quite a challenge. Most aircraft are still powered by petroleum made from petroleum. With that, they bring in significant amounts of CO2 with each flight2 in the air, not to mention other polluting emissions. In emerging economies, more and more people can afford air travel.
Therefore, various initiatives are being launched to make the propulsion of aircraft cleaner. For example, airlines are trying to make the petroleum they fill up more sustainable. However, this goes painfully slowly and the question is whether it really helps. After all, when burned, CO is still released2 available.
Another approach is to operate aircraft electrically. We have previously written about the Dutch start-up Venturi Aviation, which has the ambitious plan to develop an electric aircraft with 44 seats and a flight range of 550 kilometers.
Here comes the HAPSS project (Hydrogen Aircraft Powertrain and Storage System) that, an all-Dutch public-private partnership of seventeen companies jointly developing a green hydrogen-powered aircraft. A fuel cell uses this gas to generate electricity, which drives the unit’s electric propellers.
The project was set up by Unified International and InnovationQuarter, the regional development company for South Holland. Other well-known participants are Fokker Services, TU Delft, the national government and the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Center (NLR).
The project will receive a financial boost from the National Growth Fund, an investment fund from the Dutch government. The ‘Aviation in Transition’ program will receive 383 million euros. The HAPSS project is the biggest part of this.
That one can fly a large plane filled with passengers with hydrogen is not yet a matter of course. Going into the air with a flammable gas requires technological solutions, not all of which are there yet.
Piping alone is a complex matter, says Joris Melkert from TU Delft in a press release. “If you want to transport hydrogen through pipes, you have to be in control of it with pressure regulators and compressors. And a lot of heat is also released, so you have to do something about it. “
Capsules in the tail
Where the fuel in current aircraft – petroleum – is stored in the wings, it leads to too many complications with hydrogen. The gas is stored strongly cooled in capsules in the tail. From there, it passes through pipes to the fuel cells, which use it to generate electricity.
In a parallel project, some of the project partners are working on better propellers, says Bert Klarus from Innovation Quarter. »Turboprops are known to make a lot of noise. This is annoying for residents who live near airports, but certainly also for passengers who experience loud noise and vibration. To increase comfort and make longer flights possible, TU Delft, NLR, KVE and Airborne, among others, are working on quieter propellers. ‘
Convert existing aircraft
The first step in the HAPSS project is to install the hydrogen-based driveline in an existing aircraft. It is the fastest way to results and there is a market for it retrofittings†
But gradually, completely new devices are also coming. Klarus: ‘In an existing aircraft, you have less design freedom, and a lot of space is taken up by the components in the hydrogen propulsion. By designing a new aircraft solely on the new propulsion system, we can make it more efficient and free up more space for passengers. ‘
Ultimately, the device should be able to transport between fifty and one hundred people over a distance of several hundred kilometers. The ambition is that the first people in 2028 will be able to fly from Rotterdam to London on green hydrogen.
Opening image: impression of a hydrogen-powered aircraft. Unlike in this illustration, the Dutch consortium is aiming for a unit powered by (electric) propellers. Illustration: Depositphotos
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