Todd Solomon
June 16, 2022

In a report earlier this month, Vision 2050: Aligning Aviation with the Paris Agreement, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) concludes that “aligning aviation with the below–2°C aspiration of the Paris Agreement is possible but requires significant ambition and investment.”¹ To hit its mark, the ICCT indicates, the aviation industry would need to begin reducing emissions as early as 2025 and no later than 2030—not slowing its increase in emissions but reducing them.

As dire as the ICCT observation is, it’s no reason for despair because, also earlier this month, FlyZero, a research project of the Aerospace Technology Institute in the UK, released its own independent set of  studies. In Sustainability Report: the Lifecycle Impact of Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft, FlyZero concludes, “Overall, hydrogen aircraft represent the most sustainable long-term option for all but very short-range aircraft.”²

At ZeroAvia, we were pleased to hear FlyZero’s affirmation of hydrogen. After all, we’ve been working to unlock the zero-emission benefits of hydrogen since 2018. But, FlyZero makes it clear that, even with hydrogen, the road to zero-emission aircraft is not going to be an easy one. The report calls the transition to hydrogen “a significant challenge, requiring a completely disruptive approach to current aircraft technology, airport infrastructure and fuel production.”

On that point, how to get over the hurdles of research & development, airport infrastructure, and airline adoption, FlyZero and the ICCT have similar prescriptions.

FlyZero’s recommendations include technical items like better understanding of contrails at different altitudes, further modeling of lifecycle impact, and sustainable manufacturing. They also assert:

“Developments in policy and regulatory frameworks are required to support current initiatives to speed up decarbonisation and, where the science is sufficiently certain, to tackle non-CO2 emissions.”³

In its report, the ICCT also asserts that the hard work of transitioning the aviation industry to a more Earth-friendly practice must be “driven and rewarded by public policies.” Specific to zero-emission planes (ZEPs), ICCT echoes a 2020 McKinsey recommendation⁴, advising:

“For [Zero-Emission Planes], funding will be needed to research and develop the aircraft and to develop infrastructure to supply hydrogen and/or electricity. A short-term priority will be to create a level playing field between [Sustainable Aviation Fuels] and ZEPs by incorporating the latter into mandates and incentives.”

The UK and other European nations have been generous, and the US is putting huge sums into hydrogen infrastructure, with hopefully some supporting the aviation development. But, within weeks of each other, two independent organizations have identified further public policy as a critical need. For zero-emission aviation to be adopted tomorrow, we need a more ambitious policy and regulatory framework today.

¹ Graver, B., Zheng, X., Rutherford, D, Mukhoadhaya, J., Pronk, E. (2022). Vision 2050: Aligning Aviation with the Paris Agreement. The International Council On Clean Transportation. theicct.org/publication/global-aviation-vision-2050-align-aviation-paris-jun22/
² Job, S., Campbell, M., Hall, B., Hamadache, Z., Kumar, N. (2022). Sustainability Report: The Lifecycle Impact of Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft. FlyZero: Aerospace Technology Institute.
³ Note: Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) contain carbon and have non CO2 combustion emissions similar to Jet-A.
⁴ McKinsey (2020). Hydrogen-powered aviation: A fact-based study of hydrogen technology, economics, and climate impact by 2050. McKinsey & Company.
www.fch. europa.eu/sites/default/files/FCH Docs/20200507_Hydrogen Powered Aviation report_FINAL web (ID 8706035).pdf