Hydrogen Jet Design Unveiled

December 6, 2021


A U.K.-backed research group unveiled a design for a liquid hydrogen-powered airliner 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 said in a statementMonday. The group, a partnership between the U.K. government and industry, is meant to accelerate high-risk projects that will benefit home-grown firms. 

Hydrogen propulsion is seen as one of the most promising technologies for achieving carbon-neutral commercial flights. However it’s expensive and more challenging to store on board, and it will take years to develop the planes and build infrastructure such as airport refueling capacity.

The U.K., which hosted the COP26 climate summit last month, 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 FlyZero concept received 15 million pounds in government funding. 

“These designs could define the future of aerospace and aviation,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng 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 next year, 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. 

The midsize aircraft being showcased Monday would store hydrogen at minus 250 degrees Celsius (minus 418 degrees Farenheit) 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. 

It would have a wingspan of 54 meters, between Boeing Co.’s 767 and 787 twin-aisle jets, and be powered by two turbofan engines.

While Boeing hasn’t set plans for a hydrogen plane, Airbus SE has targeted a commercial airliner for entry into service by 2035. The European company has told the European Union that a model carrying more than 150 passengers won’t be in wide use until 2050. 


8 Responses to “Hydrogen Jet Design Unveiled”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    Excellent news.

  2. redskylite Says:

    Ships too . . .

    “Orkney will be the first practical usage of this technology while the Norwegian maritime cluster has the opportunity develop our own pilots and projects here in Norway.”


  3. John Oneill Says:

    Two thirds of the net warming from aircraft is not from CO2, but from other effects like contrails, nitrous oxides, soot, and water vapour. Hydrogen powered aircraft should at least eliminate the CO2 -if the fuel is produced cleanly- and the soot. No soot could mean no condensation particles for the water vapour to condense on, so maybe fewer contrails. There would be more water vapour, though, and that is a powerful greenhouse gas itself, up in the stratosphere. Formation of nitrous oxides might be difficult to avoid, too, being a function of a hot flame in a largely nitrogen and oxygen atmosphere. Jet engine developers have done a lot of work to cut nitrogen oxides, especially nitrous oxide – NO2 has about ten times the warming potential of methane and 300 times that of CO2, and lasts in the atmosphere for over a century. The difficulty is that efficency of a heat engine is usually directly related to the temperature it runs at – that’s why Volkswagen were induced to cheat to meet diesel clean air standards.
    Improvements in aircraft efficiency, and reductions in emissions, up till now have been very impressive, but they’ve been totally swamped by the much greater increase in the number of flights. It will take time to perfect aircraft which are truly climate neutral, or close to it. In the meantime, we should just expect to fly a lot less.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I have a goofy fantasy that the US will develop high-speed long-distance rail.

      At least electric planes seem to be viable for the short-haul niche.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “Two thirds of the net warming from aircraft is not from CO2”

      I find that very hard to believe. CO2 lasts for hundreds of thousands of years in the atmosphere. Nitrous oxides last only a little over 100 years. Water vapor a matter of days.

      We have to be careful not to oversimplify the calculus simply because the EPA has engrained a 100-year CO2-eq schema in our brains. They did this to give us a convenient way to compare the short-term Global Warming Potential of various pollutants, but it is not a substitute for the actual numbers involved.

      Using the 100-year multipliers is a category error that, it seems, everybody makes. CO2 just laughs at 100 years – it lasts for 2000 centuries.

  4. John Oneill Says:

    I was working off this piece -https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-calculating-the-true-climate-impact-of-aviation-emissions
    I think water vapour in the troposphere tens to rain or freeze out as soon as it reaches local vapour maxima, but above the tropopause it may persist longer, and has more effect. Burning a ton of jet fuel makes about three tons of CO2 and nearly a ton and a half of water vapour, but in the stratosphere, CO2 is at roughly the same concentration as in the lower atmosphere, while, barring the occasional tropical storm, there would be very little water vapour up there.
    Getting CO2 down to 350 ppm or lower will take a long time – there’s billions of tons of the stuff, and we have to undo the work of centuries. If we can cut back on the shorter lived, lower mass radiative forcings in the interim, it might stop us from going past some of the other tipping points.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Best as I can tell, the study upon which the carbonbrief article is based, used 20, 50, and 100 year Global Warming Potential windows. As predicted.

      And I have got to say – why is this so common when we all KNOW that CO2 lasts for 2000 times longer than 100 years? I understand everyone has been doing this for decades, but surely people must know, at least subconsciously, it is wildly inaccurate.

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