Can Hydrogen Power Santa’s Sleigh to help reduce Reindeer and Co2 Emissions

It is widely understood that all those in the flying industry are looking for a way to reduce their emissions. There is a real shift to making travelling more sustainable and companies are looking for renewable fuel offerings.

The idea of hydrogen powered aircraft has been around for a while. It was previously thought that hydrogen batteries were simply too heavy ever to be a viable solution. Attempts at hydrogen planes have taken off at Boeing and our understanding is that Santa is looking at the potential of a viable solution for his sleigh

Hydrogen is abundant within our atmosphere especially around the north pole making hydrogen-powered planes and or sleighs a very attractive proposal.

Aircraft that run on hydrogen get their power from compressed liquid hydrogen. The process works by combining hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell, and the reaction of these elements produces water, heat and electricity

The difference with this process compared to burning fossil and Reindeer power is that no CO2/CH4 is released into the atmosphere. As a result, hydrogen aircraft are eco-friendlier and would allow us to realise our commitments to a carbon neutral target as unlike current fuel, hydrogen only produce water vapour as an emission.

Not only would hydrogen aircraft reduce air pollution, but they would also reduce noise too, this will help Santa to be as quiet as possible as he delivers all the toys on his special night.

The biggest issue off course for the airline industry and Santa using hydrogen fuel is the fact there is no infrastructure for refuelling to make it a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The question is how will Santa be able fill up as he circles the world on Christmas night. The infrastructure is in place for airlines to refuel their aircraft with fossil fuels, which is a hindrance to the development of zero emission fuels. For hydrogen power to become a reality, that needs to change.

There is a project underway to develop the EU’s first commercial plant for hydrogen aviation fuel. Led by Norsk e-Fuel, the partnership including four companies are looking to develop the technology that will fit with existing infrastructure of delivery tankers. The venture  hopes that the plant will be in operation from 2023 and have made a commitment to ensure there is ample fuel over the Christmas period. Norsk e-Fuel’s plant will be ready to replace standard jet fuel by 2023.

These are ambitious plans but can be achieved In a statement Georges Rassel, CEO of Paul Wurth shared, “Climate change and rising costs for CO2 emissions result in a growing market for renewable solutions. This new project holds broad possibilities for Norway and Europe, offering the key to a deeper decarbonization than has ever been possible before.

“The energy transition is already progressing quickly in consumer-facing sectors – it is time for the industry to step up and bring technologies to scale to decarbonize the sectors that power our societies behind the scenes.”

There are however drawbacks using hydrogen as a fuel. Detailed design is required to determine how best hydrogen can be used in aircraft. If used directly with a hydrogen blend it would have fewer alterations to aircraft. Alternatively using a hydrogen fuel cell is more efficient however, it will need significant design changes to aircraft fuel storage system which will affect the take-off weight. The question is will the new design ensure that planes can still operate their regular schedules and keep capacity and will Santa have enough for his sleigh. Without significant investment operations will be compromised as they will be limited to how far the hydrogen power will take them and limited to where they can refuel.

Even with environmental commitments, for both Airlines and Santa investing in hydrogen power will require a leap of faith. And while change needs to happen, the issue will be at what price does it come at?

Norsk e-Fuel stated ‘our latest development would work alongside existing infrastructure. However, the cost is not the same. Since this renewable fuel requires so much renewable electricity to produce, the process is expensive. When operating small margins, cost efficiency is vital for airlines. Standard fuels will simply look more attractive on a balance sheet’.

Although we are making real strides to reduce the cost of renewable energy until the cost and infrastructure are there, traditional fuels will seem more attractive. We need real commitment from all governments to help make zero carbon flying a reality. The airline industry will invest as soon as the technology is developed making it more attractive.

So, are hydrogen-powered planes and sleighs realistic?

The answer is yes but just not yet.

There is considerable interest within the Hydrogen sector to help the aviation industry move towards its renewable goals. Let us hope Santa can lead the way.

Mark Welsh

Hydrogen Ireland Board Member

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