The roll out of hydrogen planes in Europe will need €300bn of investment and require a tax on traditional jet fuels, a new study by a clean energy group finds, showing the scale of the challenge for policymakers in driving green aviation.
Airbus, the world’s largest plane maker, has said it aims to fly a zero-emissions hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035 but has cautioned about the pace of development of the necessary infrastructure.
The study published by the NGO Transport & Environment on Monday, found that the cost of developing the hydrogen supply chain in Europe would be €299bn between 2025 and 2050, largely made up of the cost of green hydrogen production, liquefaction and distribution.
The high cost would make hydrogen planes 8 per cent more expensive than jet-fuelled aircraft in 2035 unless kerosene was taxed, it estimated.
If jet fuel was taxed and a price on carbon emissions introduced, however, hydrogen planes could be 2 per cent cheaper to operate, the study found.
The research factored in a carbon price of €127 per tonne of carbon dioxide by the year 2035. Carbon is now priced at just under €85 per tonne, after touching a high of just over €100 a tonne in February, on the EU exchange traded system that allows companies to trade carbon emission permits.
Kerosene taxation has not yet been introduced but the T&E group based its calculations for a tax in line with current proposals put forward by the European Commission. This estimates a tax of about €0.37 per litre.
“If we want Airbus to walk the talk, we’ll need to create a market for zero emission aircraft, by taxing fossil jet fuel and mandating zero emission planes in the future,” said Carlos López de la Osa, aviation technical manager at T&E.
Airbus said it was “committed to bringing to market the first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035 but taxation is not the solution to get there”.
“Incentives which promote investment in technologies and infrastructure, as well carbon pricing and market-based measures, provide a more cost-efficient way to deliver the necessary reduction in aviation emissions,” it added.
Aviation is proving to be one of the hardest industries to decarbonise, in part because battery technology is not advanced enough to power aircraft beyond relatively short distances.
Hydrogen, which is made by splitting hydrogen atoms from water molecules, has been touted by policymakers as a crucial fuel for decarbonising heavy industries if it is made using renewable power.
The aviation industry has committed to hitting net zero carbon emissions targets through a mix of new fuel technologies, including the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and hydrogen, as well as more efficient aircraft, engines and air traffic management.
Opinions differ about how fast hydrogen could help the industry decarbonise given the technical challenges involved, but many aviation experts predict flying will become more expensive.
“Flying in the future will be more expensive. There is now way round it,” said de la Osa. “Hydrogen aviation will make economic sense as long as we apply the polluter pays principle. Otherwise the industry will shoot itself in the foot.”