Investigating Hydrogen as a Potential Alternative to Kerosene in Fueling Commercial Aircraft

(1) Henry M. Gunn High School
Cover photo for Investigating Hydrogen as a Potential Alternative to Kerosene in Fueling Commercial Aircraft

Growing climate concerns have intensified research into zero-emission transportation fuels, notably hydrogen. Hydrogen is considered a clean fuel because its only major by-product is water. This project analyzes how hydrogen compares to kerosene as a commercial aircraft fuel with respect to cost, CO2 emissions, and flight range. We hypothesized that hydrogen planes would emit less CO2 but would have higher fueling costs and shorter ranges than current kerosene planes. The fuel cost and emissions per km cruise of hypothetical hydrogen combustion and fuel cell planes using grey (methane-derived), blue (methane-derived with partial carbon capture), and green (electrolysis-derived using renewable electricity) hydrogen were calculated and compared to those of a kerosene Boeing 737-400 (737). These metrics were determined through chemical and physical analyses based on publicly available data. The blue hydrogen combustion plane is a promising short-term option because with 4-34% carbon capture, it had lower cost and emissions than the 737 while requiring minimal modifications to current infrastructure. The green hydrogen fuel cell plane is a promising long-term option because it had no CO2 emissions and would become cost competitive once the net electrolysis and fuel cell efficiency increases from the current 40% estimate to 48%. However, both hydrogen planes had relatively shorter ranges than the 737 due to the low volumetric density of hydrogen. Through this work, we have shown that hydrogen holds potential as an economically viable clean alternative aircraft fuel, but the development of high-density solid-state hydrogen storage materials is crucial for the success of hydrogen aviation.

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