Extremely lightweight hydrogen tanks could quadruple the range of passenger airliners

All while eliminating the carbon emissions of traditional aircraft.
Chris Young

California-based firm HyPoint is developing an innovative cryogenic tank design that could massively boost the range of hydrogen-powered aircraft, a press statement reveals.

HyPoint's technology is extremely lightweight compared with traditional fuel cells and it could allow airliners to fly up to four times farther than traditional passenger aircraft.

A 50-56 passenger De Havilland Canada Dash-8 Q300, for example, can fly approximately 1,558 km (968 miles) on jet fuel, according to HyPoint. If it were retrofitted with a fuel cell powertrain and a GTL composite tank, it would be able to fly as far as 4,488 km (2,789 miles).

"That's the difference between this plane going from New York to Chicago with high carbon emissions versus New York to San Francisco with zero carbon emissions," said HyPoint co-founder Sergei Shubenkov in its statement.

Reducing carbon emissions and operational costs at the same time

HyPoint recently penned an agreement with Tennessee company Gloyer-Taylor Laboratories (GTL), which is developing ultra-lightweight cryogenic tanks made from graphite fiber composites and other materials.

According to GLT, its cryogenic tanks have demonstrated a huge 75 percent mass reduction when compared to "state-of-the-art aerospace cryotanks (metal or composite)." It says its 2.4-m-long, 1.2-m-diameter cryotanks weigh only 12 kg and that it can hold more than 150 kg of hydrogen fuel, giving it a mass fraction of 70 percent.

This massive weight reduction could allow passenger airlines to travel up to four times as far as airliners using traditional jet fuel or drop-in fuels at the same time as dropping operating costs by about 50 percent. All of this while completely eliminating carbon emissions.

While those numbers are indicative of a no-brainer disruptive technology, a lot of work is still needed to adopt hydrogen on a wide scale, including flight testing, and massive infrastructure work. All of this fits into the aviation industry's plan to lower its carbon footprint, which accounts for more than 2 percent of all human-made emissions. Other large firms are also getting in on the action, including aviation giant Airbus, which recently announced it will retrofit an Airbus A380 with a hydrogen powertrain by 2026.

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