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  • Pan American World Airways Clipper flight 100…

  • nears its destination

  • It's an industry that has changed the world

  • and it's now in crisis

  • But is this aviation's moment for a green reset?

  • Covid has given an opportunity to build back green and faster

  • The technology race is on

  • There is absolutely opportunity for companies like us

  • to change the world here

  • But are the runners fit for purpose

  • ...and will sustainable air travel cost more?

  • Val Miftakhov is the CEO of a company

  • committed to sustainable aviation

  • Of course it's exciting, every time we are testing something new

  • And today he's test-flying a plane

  • that could potentially solve aviation's biggest challenge

  • This is the world's largest hydrogen-electric aircraft

  • flying right now

  • We hope for us achieving all the performance

  • that we expect to achieve

  • His visionto fly without polluting the skies

  • Ok, let's do it

  • Ok, let's do the max

  • In this plane, hydrogen is being used in a fuel cell

  • to run an electric motor

  • producing zero-carbon emissions

  • Honestly, the only by-product of a fuel-cell operation is water

  • So water vapour gets out into the atmosphere

  • and it's pretty harmless

  • Without decarbonising technologies like hydrogen

  • aviation could be responsible for 22%…

  • of the planet's emissions by 2050

  • Because it can pack more energy into a smaller space

  • hydrogen has recently overtaken electric batteries

  • as the front-runner in the race for cleaner flying

  • Within 15 years

  • the manufacturing giant, Airbus

  • plans to introduce planes that burn hydrogen in engines as fuel

  • And the EU believes that by 2050…

  • hydrogen technologies could reduce

  • the industry's carbon emissions by up to 75%

  • We actually looked early on at different ways

  • to bring sustainability to aviation

  • Hydrogen-electric is the most efficient

  • and likely to be the lowest cost out of all

  • But there are plenty of obstacles to overcome

  • before these hydrogen technologies

  • are commercially viable

  • For starters, installing the infrastructure

  • to distribute and produce hydrogen will be very pricey

  • at least $500bn by one estimate

  • What's more, hydrogen will need to be produced sustainably

  • using renewable energy to split water molecules

  • And on top of that, hydrogen packs less energy

  • into a given volume than jet fuel

  • so powering long-haul flights will mean

  • extensive aircraft redesign

  • So you need bigger tanks

  • you need to change the shape of the aeroplane

  • And then within the engine

  • you need more sophisticated heat exchangers

  • to deal with the hydrogen coming through

  • Airlines are fighting for the future of their industry

  • The big problem for aviation

  • is that green technologies cost a lot of money

  • but there isn't much to go around

  • as the industry faces the worst economic crisis in its history

  • and as environmental movements likeflight-shamingare on the up

  • Some in aviation are committed to greener skies

  • It's just they can't do it on their own

  • according to one of Britain's leading figures

  • on climate change and energy policy

  • I think the good news

  • is that the industry has really redoubled

  • its efforts to decarbonise

  • I think we are seeing many examples of leadership

  • But we may also need, you know, government support

  • in an environment where covid-19 has very clearly

  • hit the cashflows

  • of the big incumbent players

  • in a way which was not their fault

  • Even with governments' help

  • it will take at least two decades

  • before hydrogen-powered planes are ready for take-off

  • To reduce emissions in the nearer term

  • aviation needs other options

  • And a front-runner has recently emerged

  • Since July, the right engine of this Airbus A321…

  • has been powered by biofuel

  • Sustainable fuels are made from synthetic sources

  • or biological ones such as crops, algae

  • or even waste

  • One of the great benefits

  • of going down the sustainable-aviation-fuel

  • the biofuel or the synthetic-jet-fuel route

  • is that it's a drop-in fuel

  • so that what happens at the airport doesn't change

  • To pump up the flow of sustainable fuels

  • experts say governments need to offer incentives to airlines

  • That could mean rolling out taxes on dirty fuels

  • and making airlines buy a certain proportion of cleaner ones

  • We have this chicken-and-egg problem, as we call it

  • of aviation companies who say

  • we would love to buy sustainable-aviation fuel

  • if it was only 50% more expensive

  • than conventional jet fuel

  • But as long as it's three times more expensive

  • this is prohibitively expensive

  • and you have people trying to develop

  • …a sustainable-aviation-fuel technologies

  • who would say, we could get the price down

  • if only we had certainty of really big orders

  • by a particular date

  • And there's another way

  • governments could speed up the shift to greener skies

  • stumping up investment funds

  • So that's interesting

  • Just ask the CEO

  • who is trying to make hydrogen-powered planes take off

  • He says the $3.3m his company received

  • from the British government, has been crucial

  • He argues larger-scale investment from the state

  • as well as the private sector

  • is key to making green aviation viable

  • It's very hard to make

  • the radically new technologies competitive commercially

  • without government support right from the beginning

  • especially when you're in R&D phase

  • especially in such a capital-intense industry as aviation

  • Going green may be the biggest challenge

  • the industry has ever faced

  • It demands the right investment and policies

  • to support a range of technologies

  • And that might mean passengers need deeper pockets

  • It may be that there is a slight air-ticket premium

  • I think we should simply pay it

  • I think we should say this is what we have to pay

  • in order to have zero-carbon flight

  • I'm Simon Wright, industry editor at The Economist

  • If you'd like to read more about the future of aviation

  • click on the link opposite

  • If you'd like to watch more

  • of our Now & Next series

  • click on the other link

  • Thank you for watching

  • and don't forget to subscribe

Pan American World Airways Clipper flight 100…

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B1 UK aviation hydrogen fuel sustainable industry jet fuel

Can flying go green? | The Economist

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    Izzy posted on 2021/02/21
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