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Could hydrogen-powered planes be the future of air travel? A new test shows they might be

"A major step toward proving that hydrogen could be a zero-carbon aviation fuel of the future."

Hydrogen airplane

Photo Credit: iStock

Engineering firm Rolls-Royce is at the forefront of the aviation industry and is the world's second-biggest manufacturer of airplane engines. And now, the company has done something truly incredible. 

Last week, the U.K-based company tested a hydrogen-powered plane, which, according to the Guardian, is thought to be the first of its kind. 

Rolls-Royce carried out the hydrogen airplane test at an outdoor site in England using a converted regional aircraft engine. This project — and its success — shows that the aviation industry is making plans to reduce its carbon-intensive activities. 

Currently, jet engines use dirty, carbon-based fuels that contribute significantly to our overheating planet. On average, a domestic flight creates around six times more emissions per person than a car with four passengers. 

Hydrogen, unlike those dirty fuels, essentially emits only warm air and water vapor. It's estimated that hydrogen-fueled flights could reduce flight emissions by up to 75%. 

Rolls-Royce told the Guardian that its project is a "major step toward proving that hydrogen could be a zero-carbon aviation fuel of the future."

The challenge now is proving that the engines can work in long-haul jet flights. Rolls-Royce and its testing partner EasyJet tested the fuel on an engine designed for slower speed, short-distance flights.

It was long assumed that hydrogen batteries were too heavy to be an environmentally friendly and viable solution. Rolls-Royce's breakthrough shows that, while there's a long way to go, planes may one day be powered by clean hydrogen. 

In an interview with FutureTransport News, Grazia Vittadini, Rolls-Royce's chief technology officer, said the test was "an exciting milestone" and a "landmark achievement." 

So far, the breakthrough has drawn plenty of praise from governments and business leaders alike. 

Grant Shapps, the U.K.'s Secretary of State for business, energy, and industrial strategy said,

"The U.K. is leading the global shift to guilt-free flying, and the hydrogen atest is an exciting demonstration of how business innovation can transform the way we live our lives."

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