An economic study conducted by research group Steer, commissioned by T&E, has revealed that hydrogen planes could be an efficient and cost-competitive technology to decarbonize the aviation sector, provided adequate taxation on fossil kerosene is implemented.
The study explores the potential operating costs of hydrogen planes on intra-European flights and highlights the importance of pricing measures such as fossil jet fuel taxation and carbon pricing in facilitating the deployment of green technologies like hydrogen planes.
According to the study, by 2035, running planes on hydrogen could be 8% more expensive than using kerosene. However, with a tax on fossil jet fuel and a price on carbon, hydrogen planes could become 2% cheaper to operate than their kerosene counterparts. These pricing measures are crucial for incentivizing the adoption of hydrogen planes.
While aircraft manufacturer Airbus has plans to launch hydrogen planes by 2035, it faces challenges in meeting the target due to the slow development of the hydrogen ecosystem. Airbus has also expressed concerns about the criteria in the EU taxonomy, which only provides a green investment label to zero-emission aircraft. This suggests that Airbus may have doubts about the market demand for hydrogen planes.
The analysis of the study indicates that the total cost of deploying hydrogen aircraft for intra-European aviation would amount to €299 billion by 2050, with the development of hydrogen aircraft representing only 5% of the cost (€15 billion). However, this upfront cost must be incurred before 2035 to ensure the success of these new planes.
The majority of the spending lies outside the aviation sector and relies on the broader development of the green hydrogen economy. Over half of the cost (54% or €161 billion) is attributed to the production of green hydrogen, with an additional 23% required for hydrogen liquefaction. Costs are also associated with developing hydrogen infrastructure at airports (12%) and fuel distribution to airports (6%).
The study suggests that the total cost could be reduced by €100 billion if leisure and business traffic remains respectively at 100% and 50% of 2019 levels. Reducing business travel not only helps in emissions reduction but also contributes to cost savings.
While there are significant technological challenges in developing hydrogen planes, such as the lower energy density of liquid hydrogen compared to kerosene, limiting their range, hydrogen planes still offer a viable solution for decarbonizing regional and short-haul routes, which account for 50% of Europe’s aviation emissions.