One interesting use case for hydrogen airships is to move green hydrogen itself

Sunday, June 26th, 2022

H2 Clipper argues that large electric airships lifted and powered by green hydrogen stand ready to transport massive cargo loads over enormous distances much faster than cargo ships, opening up inland logistics facilities with minimal ground infrastructure, and doing it all with zero emissions:

We’re talking cargo loads up to 340,000 lb (150,000 kg, or the equivalent of about 115 Toyota Corollas), distances up to 6,000 miles (9,650 km, or roughly the distance between Los Angeles and Barcelona), at cruising speeds over 175 mph (280 km/h, or a little under one-third the speed of a Dreamliner passenger plane, but 7-10 times faster than a cargo ship can go).

That’s an incredibly compelling set of numbers, particularly given the cost; H2 Clipper claims it’ll cost a quarter of what today’s air freight services cost per ton-mile, making it an economically disruptive way to move bulk cargo as well as an opportunity to decarbonize trans-continental logistics operations.

In 2021, H2 Clipper was accepted into Dassault Systems’ 3D Experience lab accelerator program, giving this small company the ability to use cutting-edge simulation and development tools to refine its design. The company has completed simulated wind tunnel tests using computational fluid dynamics (CFD), validating its super-low drag aerodynamics and putting some weight behind the company’s fuel burn and operational cost estimations.

At this stage, the company plans to get a prototype built by 2025, and to have a full-sized hydrogen airship flying in 2028. It’s still a risky play for investors; the FAA currently bans hydrogen as a lift gas. But green hydrogen projects worth billions of dollars are springing up across the globe, so hydrogen itself stands to have a lobby group behind it like it’s never had before.

In that context, one interesting use case for hydrogen airships is to move green hydrogen itself; H2 Clipper says that these aircraft will beat rail, trucks, ships and even pipelines on price for hydrogen exports moving any distance over 1,000 miles (1,600 km). These “pipelines in the sky” will also be as green as the bulk hydrogen they’re shifting, adding a further benefit that green H2 exporters might be willing to take some risks betting on.


  1. Borepatch says:

    I wonder what the weather-related accident rate will be. It was weather caused crashes that killed airships in the 1930s.

  2. Jim says:

    “At this stage, the company plans to get a prototype built by 2025, and to have a full-sized hydrogen airship flying in 2028.”

    For those not familiar with aviation, this means that if they’re bought by an established player once they run out of money they could have a prototype by 2028 and a full-sized hydrogen airship flying in 2034.

    Expect certification no sooner than 2042.

    [This is not a joke post.]

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Hmmm! Does the name “Hindenburg” ring a bell?

    Large quantities of highly combustible hydrogen with fire-prone lithium batteries driving sparking electric motors — good luck getting insurance!

    Remember the Good Old Days when every investment idea included the word “Nano-”? Now, the scammers use terms like “Green Hydrogen”.

    Presumably, “Green Hydrogen” is hydrogen generated by electrolyzing scarce water (see Lake Powell) using unreliable electric power from solar cells manufactured by Uyghurs in China using fossil fuels or wind turbines manufactured in China using fossil fuels and minerals mined by child labor in Africa.

    How “Green” is “Green Hydrogen” when the full manufacturing cycle is included?

  4. David Foster says:

    340000 pounds is 170 tons. That is less than the capacity of two standard railcars. A single train can include more than 100 cars.

    Dirigible are intriguing, but I don’t see how they can possibly beat rail or water for heavy freight.

  5. Isegoria says:

    As the article notes, a cargo airship is slower and less expensive than conventional air freight, but faster and more expensive than rail — and doesn’t need a runway or rails.

  6. Goober says:

    It didn’t say in the article, and I’m not watching the video, so it’s possible that they plan to use fuel cell tech and electric motors, and if that’s the case, then ignore what I’m about to say…

    …but the constant claims that burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine is “emission free” is just pure propaganda. In an atmosphere with no nitrogen in it, that’s technically true, but creating combustion temperatures that high in an atmosphere with high levels of nitrogen like ours will result in NOx emissions, which is the type of pollution that creates smog.

    The only way to solve that is to reduce combustion chamber temps, usually through exhaust gas recirculation. It can be reduced, but not eliminated.

    Sorry, it’s a pet peeve of mine.

  7. Altitude Zero says:

    And of course, there’s nothing more spectacular than a hydrogen airship explosion. When the Hindenburg exploded, airship travel was actually safer than travel by plane, and probably would have remained so until the advent of more advanced aircraft after 1940, but the Hindenburg disaster was awesome and terrifying in a way that most airplane crashes were not, so it pretty much destroyed the airship industry. I’m not holding my breath on the return of hydrogen airships.

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