Photo Credit: Heathrow Airport
British Airways could be flying emission-free hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2027 as part of the airline’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions within the next 30 years. The announcement came on the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement that aims to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
In order to get emission-free commercial aircraft off the ground, British Airways has partnered with ZeroAvia who became the first company in the world to fly a commercial-grade aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell in September.
There is, however, still some work to do before giant aircraft like the Airbus A380 can be fitted with hydrogen fuel cells in order to transport hundreds of passengers halfway around the world. ZeroAvia’s achievement was accomplished using a Piper M-class six-seat plane for only a very short flight.
The company is confident, though, that it can quickly scale the technology and hopes by 2023 to have hydrogen-powered 20-seater commercial aircraft capable of flying for up to 500 miles. By 2027, the technology is expected to be advanced enough to power 100-seater aircraft for more than 500 miles, and by 2030 hydrogen-powered aircraft flying more than 1000 miles could be a reality.
British Airways says ZeroAvia will be “embedded in the heart of the airline” as it continues work on the project.
Separately, the airline is also investing in a sustainable aviation fuel facility that can turn household waste, as well as leftovers from inflight meals, into fuel capable of powering BA’s largest aircraft. One plant could produce enough fuel to power more than 1,000 flights per year between London and New York in an Airbus A350.
Work on the first plant, however, hasn’t yet even started and a final decision on whether to green-light the project won’t be made until 2022 at the earliest.
Earlier this week, United Airlines announced ambitious plans to become “100% green” by 2050 with the use of carbon capture technology that removes greenhouse emissions from the environment.
Photo Credit: Airbus
easyJet is also working on an electric-powered commercial aircraft, although the low-cost airline hasn’t given any indication when the concept aircraft might move closer to becoming a reality. Aircraft manufacturer Airbus also revealed an electric-powered concept aircraft earlier this year, as well as a ‘blended wing body’ aircraft that has the potential to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent compared to today’s single-aisle aircraft.
While work on all this technology progresses, BA’s chief executive Sean Doyle says the airline will focus on operational efficiency and carbon offset programmes in order to reduce emissions. The airline recently bought lightweight trolleys that will save 5,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, while slimline seats on some aircraft could save more than 9,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.