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  • Is there any hydrogen on board?

    Sceptics of hydrogen technology mistakenly associate the use of this fuel in air transport with the Hindenburg airship disaster. Meanwhile, the most advanced and best-proven area of hydrogen use is in the... space industry. However, the scope for using liquid hydrogen-powered rocket engines is limited. There is a better chance of implementing fuel cells in aviation, which is something aerospace companies are currently working on.

    Let us start with the question: was hydrogen really used to power the Hindenburg's engines? Well, no. However, the black myth of hydrogen propulsion was determined by the apocalyptic images of the burning airship. In fact, the hydrogen in the airship was not used to power the engines, but to provide lifting power. The propellers of the airship were driven by classical diesel engines, and plans to use hydrogen for propulsion did not materialise. The fact that during the landing manoeuvre, the pilot released hydrogen through valves to compensate for the course is another indication of how different the technology was then. The end of passenger airships was a foregone conclusion long before the 1937 crash in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Much faster, cheaper to operate and safer aircraft were just beginning trans-Pacific flights.

    Fortunately for cosmonautics, rocket engineers were not afraid to use hydrogen as a fuel. It has been used in its liquid cryogenic form since the 1950s, both in rocket engines and in the rocket industry. It has been used since the 1950s, both in rocket engines and in fuel cells as a source of electricity. Rocket engines are powered by a mixture of cryogenic hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Its combustion is a mature technology with which other liquid fuels have only recently been competing in space rockets. Probably the world's largest liquid hydrogen (LH2) tank is located at the Florida Space Flight Station. The 3800 m3 tank has the capacity to store 245 tonnes of hydrogen.

    Not surprisingly, the aviation industry, which globally accounts for 2% of CO2 emissions, is also peering with interest at hydrogen technologies. Fuel cells can be used relatively easily as an additional energy source to power on-board equipment or to move aircraft during taxiing.

    Fuel cell power has already been tested in avionics and small demonstration aircraft. In April 2021, ZeroAvia's 6-seater HyFlyer was damaged during an emergency landing. Fortunately, the crew and the hydrogen tank emerged from the incident unscathed. At the same time, ZeroAvia has declared that it will continue working on larger aircraft up to 20 and over 50 seats. It plans to launch a 'hydrogen' passenger service between London and Rotterdam as early as 2024.

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    Major aircraft manufacturers are also interested in hydrogen. In September 2020, Airbus announced that its first hydrogen-powered passenger aircraft will be ready in 2035. Airbus assumes under its ZEROe programme that aircraft will be powered by jet or propeller engines burning liquid hydrogen, while fuel cells will produce electricity to power onboard systems.

    Meanwhile, Universal Hydrogen, a Los Angeles-based start-up, recently raised $62m in funding, which it plans to use to implement fuel cells in passenger aircraft. The company will begin testing the cells in a 40-seat jet in 2022. Toyota, JetBlue and GE Aviation, among others, have already invested in the company. Universal Hydrogen intends to bring hydrogen cells to aviation on a 'Nespresso coffee' model, i.e. sell the machine (cells) as cheaply as possible and then supply capsules for the rest of the product life cycle. The company's strategy is to take the risk of implementing new technology from giants such as Airbus and Boeing, test the cells on the largest possible aircraft, and then deploy them in the largest category of narrow-body aircraft. Quoted by the Financial Times, Paul Eremenko, CEO of the start-up, said the problem must be solved in the '30s to enable fleet replacement and climate goals.

    Research and development on the use of hydrogen has also been launched by the Subcarpatian Aviation Valley.

    Europe will not allow itself to have smokestacks in Poland, and customers will not allow themselves to buy from factories that pollute the environment. Therefore, if any factory - also in the aviation industry - does not adjust to the green requirements, it will cease to exist. Hydrogen is the most promising direction and this is where we want to appear as the Polish aviation industry.

    Marek Darecki, president of the board of Aviation Valley in an interview with Newseria