Carbon-free flights in 2035?
It’s Monday, September 21, and carbon-free flying could be closer than anyone thought.
Airbus, the world’s largest airplane manufacturer, announced on Monday that it aims to have hydrogen-fueled planes in the skies by 2035. The company released three zero-emissions aircraft concepts, all of which will be able to carry 100 or more passengers while emitting nothing but water vapor.
If successful, the environmental effects of this new technology would be far-reaching. While aviation currently contributes somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of global carbon emissions, that number could increase to as much as 25 percent within a few decades. That’s both because air travel is becoming more widespread, and because aviation is an industry that’s especially difficult to decarbonize: Right now, emissions can only be marginally mitigated by blending sustainable aviation fuels with conventional fuel, and electric planes aren’t great commercial alternatives yet because the batteries needed to power them would simply be too heavy.
Aircraft design is not the only hurdle ahead for Airbus. The company won’t be able to deploy hydrogen-powered planes without airports installing entirely new fueling infrastructure. And the climate benefits of the planes could be tempered by the fact that most hydrogen fuel is currently produced using natural gas. To address this, Airbus hopes that “green” hydrogen produced with renewable energy will eventually help make its carbon footprint as small as possible.
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