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Thursday, February 18, 2016


I ended my posting yesterday with a photo from the Stanford Energy Club.  To further quote (from Michael Colonno, Engineering Research Associate at Stanford University):
  • Global carbon dioxide emissions due to commercial aviation by 2025 will be 1.5 billion tons.
  • The entire European Union of 457 million people emits 3.1 billion tons/year.
  • A typical Boeing 737-800 requires more than 11MW of continuous power when cruising.
  • Hydrogen delivers three times the energy of gasoline of the same weight (click on graphic to see hydrogen way to the right):
  • The problem is that for the same amount of energy provided, liquid hydrogen takes up four times more space.
  • A hydrogen-powered aircraft will only produce water vapor and some nitrogen compounds, no carbon dioxide.
To repeat some history, I went to work for the U.S. Senate in 1979 (that's me with Senator Spark Matsunaga, and I think the person in the middle was the Senate's Sergeant at Arms) partially to initiate a national hydrogen program.  The effort was successful, as I drafted a hydrogen bill and the first law enacted was the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act.  From a zero hydrogen budget in 1990, a decade or so later hydrogen exceeded pure solar in the Department of Energy's budget.

One of the pathways in the Act had to do with the National Aerospace Plane.  Lockheed (no Martin then), primarily Willis Hawkins, who started and served as president of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, and Dan Brewer, also from Lockheed, who edited the first CRC Hydrogen Aircraft Technology publication, were crucial lobbyists in helping pass the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act.

In 1986 President Ronald Reagan called for an Orient Express to fly by the Year 2000 that could take off from Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, and reach Tokyo in 2 hours.  This hydrogen-powered craft became a joint program of NASA and the Department of Defense.  Rockwell International won the contract to design the hydrogen-powered X-30.  While the project was terminated in 1993, black (secret) facets of the activity have continued in the DOD budget.

In 1989 Russian manufacturer Tupolev built a prototype hydrogen-powered version of the Tu-154 airliner, designated as the Ty-155.  Boeing Europe unveiled a 2-seat fuel-cell powered aircraft in 2007.  In 2011 AeroVironment's Global Observer using hydrogen fuel reached an altitude of 5000 feet, but subsequently crashed.  The $140 million program was cancelled by the Pentagon in 2012.  

Similarly, Boeing's Phantom Eye, a high altitude, long endurance liquid hydrogen powered unmanned aerial vehicle was tested from 2010 to 2014, but was mothballed at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center.  A solid-state laser was said to be part of the arsenal to serve a military mission, but the primary use was to provide the Navy a continuous long-range communications option.

The Department of Defense has proposed a $400 million budget for a 450-foot long dirigible to remain at 65,000 feet for 10 years.  Solar panels will recharge hydrogen fuel cells.  Lockheed Martin was selected by DARPA to manage this High Altitude Airship program

The European Union, in a 2003 study led by Airbus and 34 other partner companies looked into CRYOPLANE, to be powered by liquid hydrogen.  The indication was that there could be some oxides of nitrogen and water vapor emissions.  However, the residency time of this vapor would only be 6 months, whereas carbon dioxide could hang around for 100 years.  Plus, aviation emissions are increasing at twice the rate of that from ground transport.  For now, Airbus is looking into replacing conventional auxiliary power units with hydrogen fuel cells.

Penn State University in 2006 indicated that a large commercial hydrogen aircraft could be built by 2020, with commercialization service in 2040. A Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport (ZEHST, below) is being planned by EADS and Japan to carry up to 100 people from Paris to Tokyo in 2.5 hours, and from London to New York in an hour.  This aircraft will be powered by biofuel made from seaweed and by oxygen-hydrogen.  However, ZEHST is not expected to attain any kind of commercial status until 2050.


The most progressive commercial hydrogen-powered craft I can find today is Rinaldo Brutoco's Hydrogen Clipper, to be designed to fly at 350 MPH with a 600,000 lift capacity.  It was at least five years ago that I met with Rinaldo, and I keep seeing signs of development, so I gather he is persevering.  I belong to his World Business Academy. The structure is being designed in sizes ranging from 200 to 1000 feet long to meet varying needs.  The skin will be Kevlar/Teflon, and the turbofan engines will burn hydrogen gas.  One scenario has the the airship flying to wind farms and future OTEC plantships in Hawaii, so the craft would also serve a hydrogen transport role in addition to a mode of travel for passengers.  What about another Hindenburg disaster?  Well, the science since then provides a reassuring future for such a service.

So in late 1979 I went to work for the U.S. Congress with a partial mission to promote next generation hydrogen airplanes.  Thirty-seven years later we seem not to be much closer to delivering a commercial craft capable of cost-effectively and safely (for Planet Earth and passengers) transporting tourists to  and from Hawaii.  Next generation hydrogen jetliners?  I've long learned to caution that some things take time to develop.  Similarly, my Huffington Post article of five years on this subject remains conjectural.

Tropical Cyclone Winston has become a truly powerful Category 4 storm at 145 MPH, with gusts up to 175 MPH.  The projected path is now closer to Fiji.  However, there is strong expectation that the eye will remain south and then make a left turn away from the country:

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