The return of airships could play an important role in establishing a sustainable hydrogen-based economy.
According to the authors of a study, led at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the re-emergence of aircrafts could reduce the environmental impact of aviation. Airships were discontinued due to concerns regarding the risk of a hydrogen explosion, however, the critical need to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions has re-emerged the idea of airships as a potential transportation alternative.
25% of global CO2 emissions are caused by the transport sector, with 3% of these emissions coming from cargo ships. Unfortunately, these figures are projected to increase between 50% and 250% by 2050. These figures urge new transport alternatives to be found, and as a result, further studies are being pursued by researchers from IIASA, Brazil, Germany, and Malaysia, who are looking into using the jet stream as an energy medium to transport cargo.
According to the researchers, jet stream would contribute most of the energy to move the airship between destinations, meaning that CO2 emissions and fuel consumption would be heavily reduced.
The reintroduction of airships would also act as an alternative for the transport of hydrogen. Although hydrogen is a clean energy carrier, forming part of a clean and sustainable future, hydrogen must be cooled to below -253 Celsius in order to liquify it, hence, consuming almost 30% of the energy and around 3% required to transport the liquified hydrogen. Researchers of the study believe that instead of using energy in liquid form, using hydrogen in gaseous form could transport the airship using jet stream, therefore using less fuel.
Airships can also be used to increase the efficiency of liquefying hydrogen. The temperature in which airships will be flying to use the jet stream is around -50 to -80 Celsius, and therefore less energy will then be needed to reach -253 Celsius.
Further possibilities arise from this process including generating energy from hydrogen to produce water, which can then be used to increase the weight of the airship, and therefore save further energy.
Ultimately, reintroducing the airship industry could help secure the future’s sustainable and clean hydrogen-based economy, reducing costs and creating a renewable world.
'Airships have been used in the past and provided great services to society. Due to current needs, airships should be reconsidered and returned to the skies,’ concludes lead-author Julian Hunt, an IIASA post-doctoral fellow.