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Hydrogen-Electric Powertrains on the horizon as Ecotricity launch the first ever electric airline

This week’s launch marks the first step towards Hydrogen-Electric Powertrains.

The hydrogen transition continues to evolve with the UK’s Ecotricity CEO this week launching the first Electric airline. The 19 seater plane will operate the roughly 400mile (650km) route between Southampton and Edinburgh.

The initial phase will see the plane run on a kerosene-based fuel but the hope is, within a year, they will transition to a “hydrogen-electric powertrains.”

The Fuel Cell construction is similar to that of a battery, and the compressed hydrogen gas will feed the stack, which does not burn the fuel but converts the chemical energy into electrical energy.

What does that mean – well imagine you have a lunchbox, and inside this lunchbox, you put sandwiches made of hydrogen gas. Now, these sandwiches aren’t like your normal sandwiches, because you don’t eat them, you just put them into this lunchbox.

This lunchbox is the fuel cell or stack. Instead of you eating the sandwich, the lunchbox eats it. But the lunchbox doesn’t eat it like we would, it turns the hydrogen sandwich into electricity. This electricity is then used to power the aeroplane’s engines.

It all seems quite logical, and the new “sustainable” air travel could be the key to the issue which has plagued the airline industry for so long, how do we travel without the emissions.

Australia will be watching this with interest as transport is the second-biggest greenhouse gas-emitting sector in Australia. It is estimated airline emissions make up about 12% of that sector. However, getting past regional flights into long haul may create other challenges the industry is not yet able to overcome.

With the idea of hydrogen cells being used for a range of industries now, China launching their Hydrogen fuel cell powered boat, “the Three Gorges Hydrogen Boat No 1” in April and BOC and BP already developing hydrogen service stations, the first to be placed at Lytton in Queensland the hydrogen future is already starting to move past the theoretical and into the reality.