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October 14, 2021updated 11 Feb 2022 4:05am

Hydrogen Aircraft: Macroeconomic Trends

Even though hydrogen is a multi-use product, there are several companies working on producing it specifically for commercial aviation.

By GlobalData Thematic Research

Key investments in hydrogen fuel cells and fuselages are expected to facilitate the development of hydrogen aircraft. However, industry experts believe more research is required to enable the widespread adoption of hydrogen in commercial aviation.

Listed below are the key macroeconomic trends impacting the hydrogen aircraft theme, as identified by GlobalData.

Covid-19

The reduction in air traffic due to the pandemic has drawn more attention to the contribution of air travel to carbon emissions and increased industry efforts in pursuing technology to enable decarbonisation. This is expected to increase the focus on more environmentally friendly fuels and aircraft, and also increase funding and interest in hydrogen projects. However, Covid-19 has severely hit manufacturers and airlines, which will lead to lower research and development (R&D) budgets in the next two years.

Cost

Major barriers to introducing hydrogen in commercial aviation include the increased costs associated with the use of the fuel and the infrastructure and fleet changes required to utilise hydrogen as a fuel. The European Union (EU) estimates that for short haul flights hydrogen implementation would only cost approximately 10% more per passenger, while it would potentially increase costs by 50% more per passenger for long haul flights.

The cost of renewable hydrogen may be driven down by increased supply and cheaper production technology, but technology advancement is a precursor to bringing down other costs.

Environmental attention

There has been a significant increase in attention to environmental issues in recent years, with the aviation sector undergoing particular scrutiny for carbon emissions. This scrutiny is pushing both private companies and states to increase research and innovation (R&I) in fuel alternatives, such as synfuel and hydrogen fuel.

Government initiatives

Government initiatives towards alternative fuels, including hydrogen are becoming more common due to the pressure to address environmental concerns. For instance, the UK provided $114.98m of funding for hydrogen technology development through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) this year. The EU is further funding the development of a new hydrogen aircraft, under the ‘Clean Sky 2’ project, with the aim of producing environmentally friendly aircraft by 2035. An amount of $13.59bn is expected to be allocated towards research partnerships with the industry for this project.

Globalisation

Globalisation has fuelled the expansion of the commercial aviation industry in the 20th and 21st century, whilst Covid-19 has put a temporary pause on the expansion of these aviation networks. As aviation profits gradually return to their pre-pandemic levels, R&D spending and innovation is expected to increase and support the development of advanced aircraft.

This is an edited extract from the Hydrogen Aircraft (Market Size, Advancements and Key Programs) – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.

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