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Could hydrogen airships return as fast, cheap, green cargo transports?

By December 14, 2021January 7th, 2022No Comments

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Could hydrogen airships return as fast, cheap, green cargo transports?

Dec 14, 2021 • New Atlas

Investors in green hydrogen projects have plenty of skin in the game and an incentive not just to develop potential markets for their hydrogen, but to rehabilitate its image

One of the main challenges for the future of hydrogen as a fuel source is infrastructure. The puzzle of transporting the gas safely needs to be solved. California-based H2 Clipper wants to bring back hydrogen-filled airships, claiming they can unlock completely green intercontinental cargo operations, carrying 8-10 times the payload of any cargo plane over 6,000 miles, at a quarter of the price.

The lift gas for H2 Clipper airships would be hydrogen – providing some 8 percent more lift per volume than helium at something around 1/67th the price. The airships’ propulsion would be fully electric, running on liquid hydrogen put through a fuel cell.

With the right provisions put in place, it could take goods right from a factory to a distribution center without needing additional ground transport stages to and from airports, thanks to its vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. H2 Clipper says the economics will be attractive as well, estimating costs between US$0.177 to $0.247 per ton-mile for distances between 1,000-6000 miles. It says this is a quarter of the price of today’s air transport. Certainly, it’ll still be more expensive than sending things on a container ship, but it does potentially cut out additional logistics challenges at either end – and the shipping sector’s emissions issues could well see it slapped with carbon taxes as the race to zero carbon by 2050 develops globally.

Yet hydrogen, along with any other flammable substance, is currently prohibited as a lift gas in the United States and Europe, due to some high-profile dirigible disasters in the early 1900s, burned into the public consciousness by newsreels of the Hindenburg conflagration in 1937. But, the article notes, “it’s possible that all is not as it seems in this regard – and indeed there are several groups beginning to call foul on what they see is an unfair perception and legal treatment of hydrogen airships that could be holding back a valuable technology.”

The article summarizes several of important arguments that the current regulatory prohibitions against the use of hydrogen should be reconsidered and quotes Eli Dourado, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, as saying “With modern engineering standards, there is no doubt that hydrogen could be made a safe lifting gas.”

Green hydrogen projects are taking off at an extraordinary rate as countries and companies alike wrestle with the hurdles and opportunities of decarbonization. The investors behind these have plenty of skin in the game already, and an incentive not just to develop potential markets for their hydrogen, but to rehabilitate its image.

The article concludes: “H2 Clipper’s hydrogen cargo airships might be just the ticket. They present minimal risk to human life – they’ll initially be piloted, but could eventually become completely autonomous. They present a useful middle ground in the transport logistics puzzle – cheaper than planes, faster than ships, virtually unlimited range and excellent operational flexibility. And there’s currently no alternative if you want to cover serious distances without creating carbon dioxide emissions.”

These airships could be immediately useful to the hydrogen industry, too; H2 Clipper says that if you’re looking to export liquid hydrogen internationally, as many countries are hoping to do in bulk, its airships will beat rail, trucks, ships and even pipelines on price over distances greater than 1,000 miles – while delivering the H2 quickly to just about anywhere on Earth.
It’s a fascinating idea with some obvious hurdles to overcome. We’ll be keeping an eye on the company’s progress!

Read full article at New Atlas