Hydrogen-Powered Planes Aren’t Just Pie in the Sky

It’s impossible to turn the clock back on the industrial and technological gains of the last couple of hundred years, but at the same time, it’s increasingly clear that we need to prevent further damage to the planet. For individuals, flying is one of the most polluting activities they can undertake – an average short-haul flight produces 133g of CO2 emissions per passenger, compared with 104g for bus passengers and 43g if you take a private car with 3 other occupants. The non-CO2 pollutants emitted by airplanes are even worse, affecting the balance of gases and pollutants in the atmosphere, and causing a long-term drop in ozone and methane. Planes emit water vapor as contrails, which trap infrared light rays to produce a warming effect that’s up to three times as significant as carbon dioxide.

To be fair, the air industry’s total contribution to global carbon emissions is relatively low, around 2.5%, and the non-CO2 emission make up 3.5% of global warming. In contrast, a recent report from the EU found that road transport contributes 19.35% of the region’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Yet air travel remains high on the list for reducing pollution. As public awareness rises around climate change, consumers are increasingly choosing airlines based on their carbon footprint.

Governments committed to reducing carbon emissions are also concerned about the contributions of the air industry to overall emissions levels. Additionally, while the air industry’s overall contribution may be low, it’s growing quickly. Emissions from international aviation rose by 128% between 1990 and 2017, and by 2050, plane emissions are predicted to be 7 to 20 times higher than 1990 levels, despite improvements in fuel consumption during that time. While expansion has been slowed by COVID-19, the sector is still predicted to grow by 4% per year over the next 2 decades.

Despite a few outliers like the Green Party in Germany, which is suggesting banning short-haul flights, few people expect to drastically reduce air travel. Granted, COVID-19 slashed the number of flights taking place worldwide, but we’re already seeing them pick up again as vaccines roll out. Analysts predict that passenger travel will return to 2019 levels by 2024, and cargo flights by mid-2021. While improving fuel consumption and engine efficiency plays a role in lowering aviation pollution, many politicians and industry thought leaders hope that hydrogen fuel will save the day, enabling more environmentally-friendly air travel at a reasonable price.

Source: Defiance ETF.

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