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Chinese hydrogen ICE-powered aircraft completes maiden flight – reports

A four-seat aircraft powered by a hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine (ICE) has completed its maiden flight in Shenyang, China, according to local reports.

Xinhua reported the prototype aircraft completed the flight at Shenyang’s Faku Caihu Airport in the country’s Northeast in a project led by Yang Fengtian, Chief Scientist at Liaoning General Aviation Academy.

Incorporating “domestically manufacturer” core components, the aircraft demonstrated an engine power of up to 120kW during the test.

At 8.2m in length, it is capable of storing up to 4.5kg of high-pressure gas hydrogen to provide a cruising speed of 180km/h.

The test pilot reported the aircraft had sufficient power and acceptable levels of vibration while flying at an altitude of 200m.

Said to be the first independently developed hydrogen ICE-powered aircraft in China, the test could open up a new development pathway for hydrogen-fuelled flight.

2023 saw multiple successful test flights of hydrogen fuel cell-powered aircraft from European and North American players.

While ZeroAvia and Universal Hydrogen carried out multiple flights of their respective planes – each equipped with one fuel cell engine to one wing – Stuttgart-based H2FLY completed the “world’s first” manned liquid hydrogen-fuelled flight with a fuel cell aircraft.

Read more: INSIDE: H2FLY’s liquid hydrogen-powered flight

Just last week, however, Australian-based Aviation H2 revealed it was modifying a jet turbine to run on liquid ammonia to provide a retrofit option for fleet operators looking to clean up existing aircraft.

Read more: Aviation H2 draws closer to ammonia jet turbine conversion

Net Zero Airports: Ready for take-off?

With hydrogen-powered aircraft having taken to the skies, attention is turning to establishing airport infrastructure and technologies.

Although technologies destined to provide aircraft with the means to fly on clean energy are edging towards commercial viability, with test flights from both ZeroAvia and Universal Hydrogen having taken place in the early part of 2023, as with many sectors and end-uses of hydrogen, the aviation industry is calling for further onus on developing infrastructure to facilitate flight.

The sheer hub and spoke-based nature of airports forces the question of whether these locations could play an even more significant role in the development of the hydrogen industry.

According to a report by gasworld, in a high-use US scenario, total hydrogen demand in aviation could reach 90,000 tonnes per day or more by 2040, with the medium- and low-use scenarios predicting 50,000-53,000 and 30,000 to 32,000 tonnes per day, respectively1. In order to achieve the infrastructure capable of delivering the high volumes of hydrogen required, a steady build-out of transportation and refuelling systems will be needed.

However, while hydrogen-powered flight remains in its infancy, the potential for existing airport operations to be run on hydrogen, utilising infrastructure that will be required for future aircraft, becomes a strong possibility…

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