first step towards clean aviation

The entire airline industry is expected to move away from fossil fuels in the coming decades, but continues to purchase hugely expensive aircraft that are expected to be profitable for over 20 years. Australian company Aviation H2 hopes to clean up commercial flights by converting existing planes to burn green ammonia instead of standard Jet-A jet fuel. For it, plans to have a nine-seat airliner in the air and flying on ammonia by the middle of next year.

Ammonia is a fuel of the future with interesting potential for decarbonizing sectors such as maritime and rail transport. Today is the second most produced chemical in the world and is primarily used as a fertilizer, but as the clean energy revolution kicks in, it will begin to be used effectively as a the easiest way to transport and store green hydrogen.

Renewable energy, as we all know, is not produced where and when it is desired. The clean energy potential is often an inconvenient distance from demand. If this clean energy is used to electrolyze water and produce hydrogen, it can be stored and transported. But this hydrogen can also mix with atmospheric nitrogen to produce ammonia, which it moves much better than H2 gas or cryogenic liquid.

Gaseous hydrogen is very light for the energy it contains, and liquid hydrogen is even lighter. But the shells are big and heavy. Ammonia has easier conversion, which will make it inherently more reliable, and that in itself makes it inherently safer.

There are several ways to get energy from ammonia in the form of electricity, but Aviation H2 focused on its potential as a fuel.

With some modifications, can you convert a regular airplane engine to run on ammonia, eliminating all its CO2 emissions. The operation will be much faster and cheaper than converting to a hydrogen fuel cell, which would require scrapping perfectly good turbofan engines and replacing them with electric motors, as well as emptying the fuel storage systems and installing something radically different.

Safety, of course, will be under strict control throughout the clean aviation revolution, and to do this, Aviation H2 and companies like it will need to have all of their powertrains certified by the relevant aviation authorities. Emissions will also be examined under a microscope, and here ammonia combustion runs into a problem. When hydrogen from ammonia decomposes and joins atmospheric oxygen to form water, a percentage of the nitrogen is also oxidized in the flame, causing nitrogen oxides, which are harmful to the ‘environment.

The company’s initial goal is to build and flight test a small nine-seat regional aircraft. After three months of feasibility studies, it signed an agreement with charter operator FalconAir, allowing Aviation H2 access to FalconAir’s hangars, facilities and operating licenses.

FalconAir will help buy the turbofan engines for ground testing, as well as the plane itself, likely a Dassault Falcon 50 business jet, as it has three engines but can run on two.

As for autonomy, the initial plan is to build an aircraft capable of one-hour flightswith the same engine thrust and performance characteristics you would get in the Jet-A.

The plan is to have an aircraft in the air, with at least one engine running on ammonia, by mid-2023 to prove the concept.

The company will then go public to raise the necessary funds to patent, certify and commercialize an ammonia powertrain.

Over time, Aviation H2 hopes to start retrofitting existing aircraft as a transitional step for companies looking to decarbonize, taking advantage of the fact that the rest of the aircraft is already fully certified to reduce compliance costs.

There are many small planes in the world, especially in China, America and Europe, which do not want to be thrown away. These are important investments for your operators. And those turbofans have to be rebuilt every few thousand hours. The renovation therefore makes sense.

In the long term, the company envisions a hangar service where companies can leave their planes for a few weeks, then pick them up and operate them in a carbon-neutral way.

Aviation H2 is not the only company working in aviation with ammonia. It should be noted that the British company Reaction Engines, responsible for the SABER rocket engine, is working on a similar project.

More information: Aviation H2 is a world leader in hydrogen aviation – Aviation H2

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