The Peterborough Examiner e-edition

Hydrogen fuel cell aviation taking off

Climate columnist Tricia Clarkson looks forward to not feeling like a ‘walking contradiction’ when taking flights each year


I usually have an extremely low carbon footprint when I don’t travel by airplane. I have a zero-emissions vehicle, a heat pump, solar panels on my roof and I ride my bicycle almost every day.

However, even though I am very concerned about climate change and global warming, I still find it necessary to take one domestic airline flight and one international airline flight every year — which almost completely cancels out my low carbon footprint.

This makes me feel like a walking contradiction.

So what can I do about that? Should I not fly to see my four sons who all live in B.C.? Should I take a high emissions CP Rail passenger train, or drive my old 2015 Leaf with a 24 kwh battery that only gets 140 km on a single charge?

Should I not fly south in the winter to help cure my seasonal affective disorder?

Even though my biggest pet peeve on this planet is toxic C02 fuel emissions, I am not a puritan. I enjoy my beautiful family and the natural beauty of hot, sunny, exotic destinations too much.

However, by flying to see my family and tropical sunsets every year, I am contributing to C02 emissions as much as anyone who drives a gas-fuelled vehicle. And soon, due to irreversible global warming, the sun will be too hot to enjoy — due to people like me. Hence the contradiction.

So what can I do about this? I would pay whatever it costs and practically drain my savings account if long-distance hydrogen fuel cell airplanes were available. But they’re not. However, short-distance hydrogen fuel cell planes are beginning to take off.

This past Christmas, my husband and I took a small Porter airlines flight from Toronto to Victoria to see our first grandchild. And apparently, if technology advances rapidly, we may be able to eventually take a small hydrogen fuel cell plane to see her!

According to Maria Galluci, Canary Media, “Since the beginning of 2023, small hydrogen fuel cell planes have made their first flights over the U.S. west coast and the English countryside. The aviation startups ZeroAvia and Universal Hydrogen now claim their novel aircraft will be ready to start flying commercially as early as 2025.”

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), retrofitting a propeller plane with fuel cells and liquid hydrogen tanks would result in a nearly 90 per cent reduction in lifecycle emissions, compared to the original aircraft.

That’s assuming that the hydrogen is made using only renewable electricity — not with fossil fuels, the way the vast majority of hydrogen is produced today.

The Council on Clean Transportation goes on to explain that fuel cells work somewhat like batteries. On planes, hydrogen flows into the fuel cell system and spurs an electrochemical reaction that produces electricity. This in turn, drives electric motors and spins propellers. But so far, fuel cells can’t produce enough power to carry the large long-distance aircraft that are responsible for the bulk of aviation‘s Co2 emissions.

However, experts say fuel cells could help pave the way for larger, more powerful hydrogen models, including, potentially jets with combustion engines that burn liquid hydrogen.

Airbus and Boeing, the world’s top two aircraft makers, are both developing hydrogen technologies as the industry faces growing public pressure to address climate change.

“If green-hydrogen production ramps up and fuel-cell aircraft catch on, it could be cheaper to refuel with hydrogen than fossil jet fuel in the U.S. in 2050,” the ICCT said in a white paper published in July, 2023.

I hope I am still around in 2050 to fly “Hy” to visit my granddaughter in B.C. By that time, she will be 26-years-old. And who knows, by then, she may be a pilot on a hydrogen fuel cell airplane and she can come and visit me instead — in the old folks’ home.

Airbus and Boeing, the world’s top two aircraft makers, are both developing hydrogen technologies as the industry faces growing public pressure to address climate change





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