Fuel cell aircraft
Australian air carrier Skytrans and startup Stralis Aircraft have announced their intention to launch a hydrogen fuel cell plane by 2026. The companies plan retrofitting of a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D airliner operating in Queensland, northeast Australia. A new hydrogen-electric propulsion system and a liquid hydrogen storage tank will replace a turbofan engine and a kerosene fuel system.

The photo is sourced from kline.co.jp

Skytrans and Stralis Aircraft are also going to upgrade the cabin, and the flight-navigation systems installed on board. The upgraded airliner will be able to reach speed up to 500 km/h, take on board 15 passengers and fly the distances up to 800 km. The propulsion system will consist of two 955 kW units. Transformation of Queensland into Australia’s largest hydrogen production hub can aid the project. For example, Stanwell Corporation, a local clean energy producer, in partnership with Japan’s Iwatani Corporation and five other companies, is set to begin commissioning of electrolysis capacity in 2026, which will reach 3 GW by 2031 (which is 15 times higher than their global level last year).

The Beechcraft 1900D conversion will allow Stralis Aircraft to acquire the engineering and technological competencies required for building two more fuel-cell aircraft. The first one, the SA-1, will be able to carry 45 people and have a range of up to 3,000 km, with the maximum speed limit of 580 km/h. Capacity of the second aircraft, the SA-2, will be 90 people, and its maximum speed limit and the flight range will be 700 km/h and 700 km, respectively.

The SA-1 is to launch in 2030 and the SA-2 – in 2035. At the same time, Stralis Aircraft holds out hope for cheaper hydrogen production technology. “In 2026, when the upgraded Beechcraft 1900D is to enter into service, its operating costs will be comparable to a conventional 19-seat turboprop aircraft, but they would to drop by 25% by 2035,” industry publication Airline Ratings quotes Jonathan Stewartay, Stralis Aircraft Technical Director.

The Beechcraft 1900D upgrade as well as the SA-1 and the SA-2 aircraft projects are supposed to contribute to air transport decarbonisation. According to McKinsey’s estimates, air transportation accounts for 13% of the CO2 global emissions in the transportation sector, while the land and sea transportation accounts for 75% and 11%, respectively (with all the other subsectors accounting for 1%). The other projects under implementation in Australia will also help to reduce the air transport carbon footprint in the coming years. For example, the Aviation H2 company plans to carry out a test flight of a plane with an ammonia engine by mid-2023. The fuel resulting from the synthesis of hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen will be an alternative to fuel cells, introduction of which associates with abandoning of turbofan engines and costly replacement of the kerosene storage systems.


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July 2022