Solving the challenge of transporting hydrogen from production site to aircraft is the key to unlocking the sustainable propulsion technology, Rod Williams, chief commercial officer at Universal Hydrogen, said.

Speaking to Robin Riedel, who co-leads the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, at the Farnborough International Airshow, Williams said his company was seeking to address this “obstacle” to commercialisation of hydrogen-powered aircraft by making the process “modular”.

He explained: “The key unlocking feature that Universal Hydrogen has come up with is a modular solution of delivering hydrogen.

“We deliver hydrogen to the aircraft using modules that are filled with hydrogen at the production site, and then we use the standard intermodal shipping system to transport the hydrogen modules to the airport and ultimately onto the aircraft.

“You’re really utilising a transportation system which has trillions of dollars invested in it, and leveraging all of that investment to transport the hydrogen anywhere in the world.”

Age-old problem

He said while hydrogen-powered aircraft have been “demonstrated going as far back as the 1970s”, the “infrastructure problem with hydrogen has been the main obstacle for the commercialisation”.

Universal Hydrogen, whose stated mission is to “put aviation on a trajectory to meet Paris Agreement emissions targets by making hydrogen-powered commercial flight a near-term reality”, is targeting regional and narrow-body/single aisle aeroplanes as the most impactful decarbonisation opportunities.

Williams added: “In our view, the technology to create a hydrogen-powered aircraft has never been the issue, the issue has been the infrastructure and all the logistics required to ultimately connect the point of production of hydrogen to the point of consumption, which is the aircraft.

“And if you were to take the traditional route to build that infrastructure out with on-airport storage … specialised tanker trucks and all that, it would be a massive amount of investment.”
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