Air and maritime mobility: towards a new decarbonized age

After a conference dedicated to the place of hydrogen in land and rail mobility, the 5th conference of the hydrogen cycle, organized by Leonard in partnership with the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale and the Energy Observer Foundation, turned to air and maritime mobility. It was an opportunity to review the context, the challenges and the projects around the integration of hydrogen in these sectors.

Moderated by Jean-Pierre Cordier, Vice President of the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, the conference featured Eric Delobel, Technical Director at VINCI Airports, Christophe Arnold, New Energies Infrastructure Manager at Airbus and Victorien Erussard, founder and captain of the Energy Observer, the world’s first hydrogen boat.


The air and maritime sectors face the challenge of the low-carbon transition

Like other sectors of society, the air and maritime transport sectors are facing the challenge of the low-carbon transition. They must meet the expectations of public policies worldwide, but also of citizens, who are asking for more and more environmental commitments (such as the European Green Deal or China’s carbon neutrality plan, mentioned by Eric Delobel). However, “the air and maritime sectors are polluting sectors,” notes Christophe Arnold. For example, Victorien Erussard explains, maritime transport emits “about 1 gigatonne of carbon per year”. This represents “10.7 billion tonnes of freight each year, or 85% of world trade. In addition to being “very fuel intensive”, this sector also emits noise pollution that can disturb marine ecosystems. The same is true for aviation, which consumes fuel, produces carbon and impacts air wildlife.

Thus, these two sectors have undertaken their transition, including establishing long-term low-carbon objectives. For the maritime sector, Victorien Erussard explains, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from global traffic by 50% by 2050 (compared to 2008 levels). Companies in the sector are also taking their responsibilities. VINCI Airports, for example, has focused its environmental policy on three pillars: carbon and energy, circular economy and natural resource recovery. The Group wants to be carbon neutral by 2050,” says Delobel.


Low-carbon levers

The maritime and aviation sectors can rely on three main levers to move towards low-carbon: the design and logistics around aircraft, the energy used and finally the links between the players in the sector.


Design and logistics

The speakers all stressed the importance of working on the renewal of the fleet of aircraft and ships in circulation. Indeed, the design of aircraft can reduce their energy needs. For example, according to Christophe Arnold, manufacturers are working on “lighter aircraft, which consume 20% to 30% less kerosene. Victorien Erussard, for his part, insists on the need to innovate “on the design of the hull of ships”.

Controlling the circulation processes of aircraft also helps to reduce their carbon emissions. For airplanes, we need to “make them wait less time in the air before landing” and “work on taxiing time,” explain Christophe Arnold and Éric Delobel respectively. For maritime transport, it is necessary to “reduce the speed of ships,” adds Victorien Erussard.


Changing the energy model: towards hydrogen

The energy model of the aviation and maritime sectors is at the heart of their low-carbon transition. Speakers particularly emphasized the need to develop the use of sustainable fuels and to improve the energy efficiency of aircraft.

Several sources of alternative fuels were reviewed during the conference. Christophe Arnold mentioned “biofuels” (whose use in aviation remains limited “because they compete with other sectors such as agriculture”), “synthetic fuels” and of course “hydrogen”, which appears to be the future of low-carbon transport. In aviation, hydrogen could be used in two ways:

– Either by producing low-carbon synthetic kerosene “thanks to hydrogen created from low-carbon electricity”.

– Or by using hydrogen “as a direct fuel in aircraft”.

Victorien Erussard, for his part, confirms the role of hydrogen in the low-carbon transition of the maritime sector. He also advises taking an interest in ammonia. Finally, he warns against the use of LNG, whose production and distribution process is still a source of significant methane losses.

Among the different forms that hydrogen can take, the speakers are leaning towards liquid. According to Christophe Arnold, “liquid hydrogen takes up less space, which means that more can be stored in an airplane for one trip. However, says Eric Delobel, “we think we will have to go through gaseous hydrogen first and then be ready for liquid hydrogen by 2035. For ships, Victorien Erussard is betting on “the energy mix”: green ammonia for “high-powered offshore transport” and liquid hydrogen “for cruise ships”.

Hydrogen poses regulatory, technical, operational and economic challenges that the industry must face. Eric Delobel illustrates this by taking the example of VINCI Airports. As an airport operator, the Group must guarantee passenger safety and deal with “drastic and precise” standards (a regulatory issue). However, “the arrival of hydrogen completely reshuffles the cards” of these standards. In addition, VINCI Airports must ensure the interface between the players in airport complexes (technical challenge). Introducing hydrogen into the airline industry requires a clear link between the production, storage and onboard use of hydrogen. The time required to recharge the aircraft with hydrogen also poses a question (operational issue). Ideally, “an aircraft should be able to make a round trip to the airport platform in less than 30 minutes. It is therefore necessary to be able to “disembark and embark passengers in this time while recharging the aircraft with hydrogen”. Finally, the sector must face the cost of liquid or gaseous hydrogen (economic issue).


Creating a real industrial ecosystem

Finally, the speakers agree on the importance of all the players in these sectors working together. For Christophe Arnold, “we need all the players in the industry to work together. We need to establish the model now”: “We need to get the industry on board, build together, and confirm the aircraft’s mission. Eric Delobel added: “To make the aviation sector a low-carbon sector, we need to work together on all the levers. Airlines, aircraft manufacturers, etc., all players must be involved. The same is true for the maritime transport sector.


What would the planes, airports and ships of tomorrow be like?

The speakers presented the various projects underway in their sector, thus giving a glimpse of what the planes, airports and ships of tomorrow will be like.

For example, Airbus is currently developing three types of hydrogen aircraft:

– The “Turboprop”, with a capacity of 100 passengers for 1800km, with a hybrid engine using liquid hydrogen.

– The “Turbofan”, capable of carrying 200 people over a distance of 4,000 km, also equipped with a hybrid propulsion system.

– The “Blended-Wing Body”, the most promising concept of the three according to Christophe Arnold, but also the longest to develop. Indeed, this aircraft proposes a new shape (fusion of the wing and fuselage) and a new hydrogen propulsion system.

VINCI Airports, for its part, is working on new generations of airports. The objective, says Eric Delobel, is “to make our airports true hydrogen hubs” and “to create a hydrogen network at the European level”. The Group wants to “develop production, storage and distribution facilities for gaseous and green liquid hydrogen at the airport”, “promote the use of green hydrogen in and around the airport with a view to massification” (installation of terminals for individual vehicles, cabs, public transport and heavy goods vehicles) and “welcome future green liquid hydrogen aircraft on our infrastructures”.

Finally, Victorien Erussard gave an overview of hydrogen projects in the maritime sector. According to him, there are about twenty hydrogen-related projects and achievements in the world, which is a small number. A good part of them are located in Europe. Among these projects, EODev (the originator of the Energy Observer boat) is currently working on the Energy Observer 2, which aims to experiment with new energy uses (hydrogen, ammonia, high-temperature fuel cells, etc.) as well as a renewal of boat design. Designed by a consortium of French industrial partners, in a French shipyard, the Energy Observer 2 will be a multipurpose cargo ship, with a projected length of 80m. It will be officially presented at the 2022 World Expo in Dubai.

All these projects show that the aviation and maritime sectors are aware of the challenges and are starting to organize themselves. However, the transition still needs to accelerate: “Large-scale experiments are imperative and urgent,” concludes Victorien Erussard.






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