Can hydrogen save aviation fuel challenges? It has a way to go.

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There are some things electricity can’t get, like lifting that 787. But that doesn’t mean big jets can’t go green, or at least greener. Several fuel refineries and airlines are experimenting with sustainable aviation fuels, known as SAFs. These fuels, which burn just like the common “Jet A” fuel, can be made from waste such as used cooking grease. Some companies, like Nests, use hydrogen in the refining of its SAF fuel.

Although aviation safety organizations allow commercial aircraft to use fuel containing 50% or less SAF, existing jets burned 100% SAF in demonstrations, “and the engines are very happy with it,” said Simpson of Airbus. .

But the SAF can be seen as a makeshift, as the larger planes flew happily by burning pure hydrogen with no emissions. In 1957, a Martin B-57B powered part of a flight using hydrogen as fuel. In 1988, a Soviet TU-155 airliner flown on hydrogen alone.

For Senator Spark Matsunaga, a Democrat from Hawaii who died in 1990, it was a missed opportunity, as significant as the Soviet Sputnik satellite that beat the United States into space. “Once again we have lost the boat,” he said, “and we can only hope that the next administration will be more interested in hydrogen than this one was.”

Any mention of hydrogen airplanes means addressing the zeppelin in the room. Although hydrogen has been used in hot air ballooning since 1783, its aeronautical future darkened on May 6, 1937, when the Hindenburg zeppelin publicly burned in Lakehurst, NJ, killing 36 people. It is still debated whether the flames, immortalized on radio and newsreels (and a cover from a Led Zeppelin album), were mainly caused by the hydrogen or incendiary paint used on the leather of the airship’s fabric. Regardless, the damage to hydrogen’s reputation persists today.

More recently, ZeroAvia experienced a bad news / good news scenario when its hydrogen fuel cell powered Piper Malibu Mirage M350 crash landed last April. The good news is that no one was injured, despite the fact that the plane lost a wing. Better yet, with no fuel leaks and no hot engine to ignite it, there was no Hindenburg-like conflagration.

“The hydrogen system itself has held up perfectly,” Miftakhov said. “The emergency crew said if it had been a fossil fuel plane it would have been a major fire.”

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