Zero-emission aviation — a roadmap for hydrogen-powered flight

S. Shubenkov
United States

Keywords: zero-emission, fuel, energy


Aviation produced 2.4% of global CO2 emissions in 2018, which as a country would rank it 6th in the world between Japan and Germany and represents a greater share of global CO2 emissions than the 136 lowest-polluting countries combined. Non-CO2 effects, such as warming induced by aircraft contrails and other pollutants, bring aviation's combined total contribution to global warming to approximately 5%. Because fossil fuel airplanes sold today are expected to be in operation for decades — and air transportation is expected to continually increase — aviation’s contribution to climate change is expected to grow rapidly compared with other sectors that are already decarbonising. BloombergNEF projects that if nothing is done, annual aviation emissions will increase to 2.05 Gt in 2050 in a baseline scenario, a 92% increase from 2019. The core challenge to bringing zero-emission aviation to the marketplace is specific power and energy density. Batteries can't deliver enough power, they die too quickly, they're too heavy/take too much space, and they require frequent charging — and similarly, existing hydrogen fuel cell systems can't be used for air transportation because they require a heavy liquid-cooling system that is as much as two times heavier than the fuel cells themselves. Last year, HyPoint unveiled its NASA award-winning hydrogen fuel cell system designed for aviation and its unique specific power and energy density needs. HyPoint's breakthrough approach to cooling hydrogen fuel cells is entirely new, providing aircraft makers for the first time with a viable hydrogen power option years earlier than expected. HyPoint's revolutionary approach utilizes compressed air for both cooling and oxygen supply to deliver a high-temperature fuel cell system that is three times lighter than existing fuel cell systems — representing a total weight reduction of more than 60%. It also leverages a number of technical innovations including lightweight bipolar plates and a highly conductive, corrosion-resistant coating in order to radically outperform existing systems. Testing has shown that HyPoint's current prototype can achieve up to 2,000 watts per kilogram of specific power (which is more than triple the power-to-weight ratio of traditional hydrogen fuel cells systems) and up to 1,500 watt-hours per kilogram of energy density, enabling longer-distance journeys. In August 2021, HyPoint announced a new partnership with BASF — the global chemical giant — to develop a cutting-edge hydrogen fuel cell membrane that will ultimately increase HyPoint's system level power significantly as well as increase durability and operating temperature. The new system will be able to deliver 3,000 W/kg of specific power — a 50% increase — which is enough to satisfy the requirements of narrow-body aircraft.