The introduction of hydrogen-powered planes from 2035 will limit CO2 emissions, but not on its own reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation sector, according to a study. The sector currently emits nearly 3% of total emissions.
While long-haul flights cannot be powered by hydrogen, in particular because of the volume that would be necessary to store it on board, “hydrogen aircraft are viable on short and medium-haul flights and could virtually eliminate emissions of CO2”, says the NGO International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in its study published on Wednesday.
These planes, which would have a shorter range than kerosene-burning planes, could represent almost a third of world passenger traffic from 2035, the date scheduled for their entry into service by the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which has made the plane hydrogen a “major strategic axis”.
The hydrogen engine does not emit pollution or any greenhouse gases since it produces water vapour. However, the hydrogen must be “clean”, ie produced by electrolysis of water using electricity from renewable sources (green hydrogen).
Reduction of up to 31%
If all eligible air routes were served by hydrogen aircraft in 2050, these would reduce air transport emissions by 31%, or 628 million tonnes of CO2. This would bring the sector’s carbon footprint back to its expected level in 2035, when it enters service, notes the study.
The air sector transported 4.5 billion passengers in 2019, producing 900 million tonnes of CO2, or 3% of total emissions. However, this number is expected to double by 2050.
It should be noted that the study does not include in its scope the other levers expected to reduce the footprint of the sector (technological developments in aircraft, better management of the air traffic control system, introduction of sustainable aviation fuels).