Airports told to act now to be ready for hydrogen aircraft


Airport owners and operators have been told that they need to start planning for the delivery and storage of hydrogen now to ensure they are ready to fuel hydrogen-powered aircraft by the mid-2030s.

On 15 June, Jacobs published research, setting out a roadmap (pictured above) to help airports implement hydrogen fuelling technologies. Aviation itself is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and should the current rate of growth remain unchecked, the Independent Civil Aviation Organisation is forecasting a tripling of emissions by 2050. The figures for the UK, meanwhile, suggest a rise from 7% to 25% by mid-century.

Airports are a key area of focus when it comes to decarbonising the aviation sector, with their three scopes of emissions: scope 1, generated from a source owned and controlled by the airport; source 2, relating to the emissions generated in the production of purchased or acquired electricity, steam, heat and cooling; and scope 3, related to emissions generated from the use of the airport’s facilities by other parties. It is the latter which tends to be the most significant, with around 80% of global aviation emissions coming from flights over 1,500km long.

Hydrogen propulsion could cut the climate impact of flights by 50-75%, with storage of liquid hydrogen on an aircraft preferable to hydrogen gas, due to superior energy density and lighter tanks, while hydrogen can also support a range of other energy demands, including heating and electricity systems. Its versatility, therefore, offers a chance to integrate it into aviation’s climate goals.

Jacobs called for an interconnected approach to aviation energy transition, stating this provides the best solution for achieving long-term objectives in the air and enabling wider reductions to on the ground emissions generation. Given the length of time it takes to plan, design, consult and implement new airport infrastructure, Jacobs stressed the need for airport owners and operators to make provision for the delivery and storage of hydrogen long before the start of demand for aircraft refuelling in the early-2030s. As a relatively close mid-term milestone, it means hydrogen can serve as a catalyst for the decarbonisation of an airport’s scope 1, 2 and ground-based 3 emissions.

It identified three scenarios for the supply and storage of hydrogen which can be used by airports on their own, or provide a route to scaling up hydrogen availability over time. The first scenario – the delivery of liquid hydrogen directly to the airport by truck – is envisaged as an initial starting point for all airports, before the scenario two, where there is the use of a hydrogen gas pipeline with on-site liquefaction, would then be commenced by some airports as hydrogen demand starts to increase and operational constraints on delivery truck access becomes an issue.

The third scenario would see use of electrolysis for hydrogen production on site at the airport. If an airport is able to produce hydrogen through electrolysis on-site, it noted it has the potential to become an energy hub for its local community, providing businesses, public services and homes with carbon neutral power, generating social value.

Through this incremental building of hydrogen supply and distribution of infrastructure will ensure that airports can be ready for hydrogen-powered planes as soon as they are commercially viable.