7 Sep 2023

Hydrogen-powered planes flying over Aotearoa by 2035, aviation group says

6:23 pm on 7 September 2023
Concept image of different types of hydrogen powered planes. Airbus is investigating three types; turboprop, turbofan and blended wing options.

Airbus has created a program called ZEROe to develop liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft. Photo: Supplied / Airbus / Air New Zealand

New Zealand could have hydrogen-powered planes in the skies as soon as 2035, says an aviation group set up to do just that.

Panellists from the New Zealand Hydrogen Aviation Consortium spoke on Thursday in Wellington on a plan that would see liquid hydrogen-fuelled aircraft flying New Zealand's domestic routes.

The consortium - made up of Airbus, Air New Zealand, Christchurch Airport, Fortescue, Hiringa Energy and Fabrum, have released a report, Launching Green Hydrogen Powered Aviation in Aotearoa New Zealand, on the action required to launch green hydrogen in New Zealand.

It said green hydrogen was a key future fuel to reduce New Zealand's aviation emissions.

The report identified several technical and regulation challenges that needed to be addressed, but expected the shift to hydrogen power could remove up to 900,000 tonnes of carbon emissions every year by 2050.

Airbus has created a program called ZEROe to develop liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft.

Airbus ZEROe hydrogen infrastructure project manager Jean-Christophe Hoguet said the aircraft were expected to be in service in 2035.

He said the aviation sector needed to decarbonise, and the hydrogen craft would not produce any carbon dioxide.

Hoguet said New Zealand was an ideal place for hydrogen aviation.

"New Zealand for us is very interesting because the size of the aircrafts that are being operated here and the traffic routes between the two islands are very compatible with the type of hydrogen aircraft that we are developing."

Christchurch Airport was working towards having a large-scale solar farm that produced the energy required for aviation on site, Kowhai Park.

General manager future planning and sustainability Nick Flack said the renewable energy ecosystem would allow them to decarbonise aviation and "provide freight solutions that nowhere else in New Zealand or Australia can provide".

"We've established relationships throughout the world to bring zero-emissions or low-emissions aircraft to New Zealand, and in particular to Christchurch."

Construction of the park was expected to start in the first quarter of next year.

Design and manufacturing company Fabrum was already working on hydrogen aviation projects overseas. Chairperson and co-founder Christopher Boyle said hydrogen provided an option for replacing fossil fuels in vehicles where batteries were not suitable.

"You can do that through fuel cells, which create electricity and run electric motors. You can do hydrogen through direct combustion in motors. Or you can use that hydrogen to do eSAF, which is a direct replacement for existing jet fuel."

Green hydrogen is manufactured through electrolysis - the application of electricity to water. This separates the hydrogen and oxygen components, and the hydrogen is then captured and liquified for use in fuel cells or directly burnt in turbine motors.

The hydrogen can also be used to make eSAF, a green hydrogen fuel which is similar to, and a direct replacement for, current A1 jet fuels.

Global metals and green energy company Fortescue was developing technology solutions for hard to decarbonise industries. Global aviation lead Amy Barrett said hydrogen would transform aviation in a lot of ways in the future.

She said alongside developing the technology to fuel normal propulsion aircraft, it also provided other opportunities such as eSAF.

Meanwhile, Hiringa was building the first nationwide hydrogen infrastructure network around New Zealand. Vehicle refuelling stations were being built in conjunction with Waitomo, and would be available from later this year.

Hiringa executive director Catherine Clennett said the first four stations were in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Palmerston North.

She said more stations were planned for Wellington and the South Island.

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