As the aviation industry grapples with the urgent need to reduce its carbon footprint, a groundbreaking study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) unveils a promising solution – regional turboprops retrofitted with hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion.
The ICCT’s study highlights the transformative potential of hydrogen fuel-cell retrofits for regional turboprops. By analyzing the ATR 72 and De Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 as reference aircraft, the study establishes that retrofitting these planes with hydrogen propulsion could capture 15-20% of the regional aviation market and slash emissions by nearly 90%.
The study reveals that a hydrogen-fueled ATR 72 may incur slight penalties in payload and range compared to conventional turboprop engines. However, it gains a competitive edge in energy efficiency. Universal Hydrogen and ZeroAvia, two key players in the aviation industry, are spearheading the development of hydrogen-electric retrofits for the ATR 72, paving the way for future certifications.
The success of hydrogen-powered aviation hinges on the availability of green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy. The study shows that green hydrogen can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 88% compared to fossil-fueled aircraft, and by 30% when compared to e-kerosene powered planes utilizing carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
ICCT’s analysis indicates that retrofitted fuel-cell aircraft could serve a significant portion of the regional aviation market. Based on 2019 data, these aircraft have the payload and range to cover nearly one-fifth of all available seat miles for turboprops, accounting for 29-36% of turboprop departures.
Beyond the immediate benefits, fuel-cell retrofit aircraft like the ATR 72 serve as a crucial testbed, preparing the aviation industry for the introduction of larger, clean-sheet hydrogen combustion aircraft. These innovative developments hold the promise of decarbonizing a substantial portion of the aviation market, steering the industry towards a more sustainable future.
As the urgency to combat climate change intensifies, the ICCT’s study presents hydrogen fuel-cell turboprops as a compelling pathway for sustainable aviation. With their potential to capture a significant market share, reduce emissions, and foster the development of hydrogen infrastructure, these retrofits hold the key to a cleaner and greener aviation sector. The aviation industry must seize this opportunity to embrace hydrogen-powered flight and steer the skies towards a more sustainable and resilient future.