Credit: Newport-based aerospace company, Neptune Power Systems Inc.
A new study by experts from MIT shows that hydrogen could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from jet engines by around 25% and be just as cost effective as the current technology.
Unfortunately, like almost everything else in the engineering world it’s not as simple as “This is the new shiny thing, let’s do it.”
A few months back the “new shiny thing” was called electric power, or batteries as they’re often called. A simple charge of a new battery can power a car for up to 500 miles and carry a lot of weight. And even if it’s filled with highway-spec gasoline it doesn’t have to burn that car’s batteries, so there are so much less emissions (that one).
But the question is, how much does it cost? And how long can it last? And, crucially, at what cost?
Electric cars have a tendency to seem very expensive and impractical. Tesla is the latest poster child for the absurdity of higher petrol prices, but despite that, autonomous Tesla autopilot mode is so much safer that the DMV just let over 1,700 Tesla cars drive on American roads.
Fully autonomous vehicles may not be “practical” at the moment, but then we’re just talking about cars on American roads. The world has more than 200 million passenger vehicles on the road.
And where there’s one hydrogen car, there will be another. So if this new MIT study is right, a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions is not only possible, but inexpensive, and could do for the climate what the Tesla promised to do for the auto industry. And the price could fall so quickly that anyone who wants to buy an electric vehicle would already be better off (it would just cost a bit more).
Gasco, who was the creator of the Magna E-Jet, which utilizes solar panels in a joint drive train between a large turbine, sits by while jets fly.
To do all that, hydrogen fuel cells would be more efficient than batteries, but that comes at a price. The MIT study found that by 2050, if things didn’t change, renewable energy and the unleaded version of gasoline would outnumber the fossil fuels available, but by that time the cost of hydrogen fuel cells would have increased by around 700%. A price high enough that the easy transition to electric would be impossible.
With that kind of prohibitive price tag for the move, hydrogen may face more barriers to entry than electric power. But that’s not the only barrier. Indeed the MIT study shows there’s a long way to go.
“Even in the absence of biofuels,” the study wrote, “we estimate that only 1 in 200 airplanes will be retrofitted [with fuel cells by 2050] and 2 in 150 if commercial hydrogen production takes place.” Which is a lot less than you’d think. After all, this is about an improvement of just 10%.