16 April 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard announces nonstop, round-the-world hydrogen flight

Swiss adventurer and climate activist Bertrand Piccard, who has circumnavigated the world in both a balloon and a solar powered plane, has announced plans for a third epic flight, this time aboard a purpose-built aircraft powered by green hydrogen. He will be joined in the 2028 project, Climate Impulse, by French engineer and fellow adventurer Raphaël Dinelli, who is supervising design and construction of the aircraft and will navigate the nine-day, non-stop journey around the equator. Concept drawings of the Climate Impulse aircraft depict a small central pod for the pilots, flanked by two large hydrogen tanks, all joined by a single, thin wing. Each tank has a front-mounted, three-blade propeller and a tail. Construction of the aircraft has commenced following two years of research, development and design backed by partners including science group Syensqo, aerospace companies Airbus, Daher and ArianeGroup, and technology and data company Capgemini. Testing will be conducted during the next two years.

Piccard argues that climate change can only be effectively addressed “through the lens of profitability and popular endorsement, instead of focusing on problems and costs.”

Through his Solar Impulse Foundation he promotes eco-friendly technologies and energy efficiency as business opportunities rather than expensive problems and uses his exploration expeditions to highlight sustainable growth and help spur governments and industries to take action on climate change.

The foundation has identified over 1,000 initiatives it describes as clean and profitable solutions that can be implemented on a large scale. It offers political and economic decision makers a guidebook “to help them establish a roadmap for the adoption of much more ambitious energy and environmental programmes and thus achieve their carbon neutrality objectives.”

Added Piccard: “More than flying around the world with a hydrogen airplane, Climate Impulse will explore new ways of thinking and acting to promote a better quality of life. In this world full of eco-anxiety, we need to restore hope and stimulate action by demonstrating disruptive solutions that lead to sustainable progress.

“Protection of the environment would become a reality only if it was perceived as economically viable and requiring no financial or behavioural sacrifices. Today, efficient solutions exist that can boost economic growth, while at the same time reducing our impact on the planet. Efficient solutions will unite people, from citizens and environmental activists to political and business leaders, shifting the narrative from sacrifice and fear to enthusiasm and action.”

Like Piccard, his Climate Impulse partner Dinelli is a climate advocate and adventurer, and has sailed around the world four times. He is also a composites engineer, pilot and specialist in renewable energies, who has previously developed and flown solar-electric test aircraft.

“The major technological challenge is to build an aircraft around two tanks of liquid hydrogen maintained at -253°C, powering electric motors via fuel cells,” explained Dinelli of the Climate Impulse project, which has strong aerospace and engineering backing.

Its major partner is Syensqo, a specialist in strong but lightweight composite materials for aircraft and engines, and a long-term collaborator with Piccard, having provided technological support for his Solar Impulse flight, performed in 2016. Syensqo was then part of Solvay, a chemicals and treatments company, from which it was spun off late last year.

Syenqo’s composite materials, films and additives will be key elements in the fuselage, wings and fuel tanks of Piccard and Dinelli’s new hydrogen aircraft, simultaneously reducing weight and maximising strength, while high-performance components for the hydrogen fuel cell will be designed to deliver “exceptionally high” power density and efficiency, while also allowing more compact design of the plane.

“This will require revolutionary innovations in the creation of adapted thermal tanks, opening new horizons in aviation technology,” added Piccard’s Foundation, which announced the latest enviro-flight. “The collaboration with Syensqo will enable Climate Impulse to develop these cutting-edge systems.”

Syensqo CEO Ilham Kadri welcomed participation in the project, saying: “We are thrilled to be part of this ultimate flight, a nonstop, zero emission, around the world (journey) fuelled by green hydrogen.”

Airbus, also a key partner in the Climate Impulse project, is a prominent proponent of and active campaigner for hydrogen-powered flight and plans to introduce a clean-sheet hydrogen aircraft into commercial service by 2035 as part of its ZEROe programme.

The aerospace manufacturer is developing an Airbus A380 as a dedicated test platform for hydrogen propulsion and has been working closely with airports and airlines to understand what infrastructure is needed to provide hydrogen refuelling of aircraft. It announced its latest initiative just last month, a collaboration with aviation and energy sector partners to explore infrastructure requirements for hydrogen-powered flights from airports in Sweden and Norway.

A third partner in the Climate Impulse project, European aircraft manufacturer Daher, is also actively progressing zero-emission propulsion and late last year, in partnership with Airbus and Safran, performed the inaugural flight of its EcoPulse hybrid-electric demonstrator aircraft, testing the performance of high energy density batteries and flight systems.

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