Sky-high ambition: Fortescue aims to decarbonise aviation

Hydrogen-fuelled aircraft (Fortescue aviation)
Image: Universal Hydrogen Co.

Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) and Los Angeles-based Universal Hydrogen Co. (UH2) have joined forces to enable the aviation industry to decarbonise through zero-emissions green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen is an ideal aviation fuel because it is a zero-pollution, renewable resource that generates only water when it is burned. It is also the most weight-efficient energy carrier available, aside from nuclear fuels, with nearly four times more energy per unit of mass than traditional jet fuel.

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Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), FFI and Universal Hydrogen have agreed to:

  • Negotiate a global offtake arrangement whereby Fortescue Future Industries will supply green hydrogen to Universal Hydrogen to power regional and other aviation sectors until 2035;
  • Conduct a scoping study to develop green hydrogen production and logistics hubs in Iceland, New Zealand and South East Queensland; and
  • Evaluate future green hydrogen demand in the aviation industry on a region-by- region basis to identify and promote green hydrogen adoption and uptake.

Fortescue chairman Dr Andrew Forrest AO said, “Universal Hydrogen has an ambitious plan to help fight climate change, with a goal of making hydrogen-powered commercial flights a reality—and FFI is committed to enabling that target.”

“Our collaboration lays the foundations for a zero-emissions aviation industry in the near-term future.

“Currently, aviation accounts for 2.5 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and emissions have doubled since the 1980s.

“Electrifying our planes will only go so far and will only be appropriate for smaller aircraft, due to current limitations around battery technologies. Green hydrogen, in contrast, is a practical solution we can use right now,” Dr Forrest said.

Universal Hydrogen CEO Paul Eremenko said, “This agreement will help ensure that we have adequate supply of green hydrogen globally to fuel not only regional aviation in the 2020s, but to support the entry into service of a hydrogen single aisle airplane in the 2030s.”

“We see green hydrogen as the only credible path for aviation to reach Paris Agreement emissions targets.

“Through the investment of companies like FFI, we expect green hydrogen to be at cost parity with jet fuel on an equivalent energy basis by the mid-2020s, and to be significantly cheaper in the years that follow.”

Universal Hydrogen, in which Fortescue Future Industries is also an early investor, is building a flexible, scalable, and capital-light solution to hydrogen logistics for aviation through its modular capsule technology.

These capsules can be filled with gaseous and liquid hydrogen and are delivered from the point of production directly to the aircraft using existing freight networks and cargo handling equipment.

Universal Hydrogen is also developing a powertrain retrofit kit to enable regional passenger and cargo airplanes to be converted to fly on hydrogen. The first test flight of Universal Hydrogen’s technology is anticipated in 2022, with revenue services planned for 2025.

Related article: Fortescue to supply green hydrogen to UK

FFI will take the lead on green hydrogen production activities and supply to the identified markets or green H2 Hubs, and Universal Hydrogen will take the lead on delivery logistics to airports and on-airport fuel services.

Both FFI and Universal Hydrogen will work together to identify and develop green hydrogen customer demand in the aviation industry.

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