There’s an ongoing debate about sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) versus hydrogen when it comes to the subject of sustainable aviation. Some say that SAF is the best available solution right now, while others think that liquid hydrogen is the answer for long-term green aviation.
While the U.S. Government is investing millions of dollars into SAFdevelopment-related projects, and giants such as United Airlines are signing huge purchase agreements for alternatives to conventional fuel, a small startup in the Netherlands is slowly working on the world’s first manned liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft.
AeroDelft is an impressive company not just because of its very ambitious goal but also because its team consists of 50 students from various institutions, including TU Delft, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Utrecht University, representing a total of 17 nationalities. Each of these students is bringing a unique expertise to Project Phoenix, set to become the first zero-emissions aircraft running entirely on liquid hydrogen.
The company was set up in 2018 and is currently working on both the 1:3 scale prototype and the full-scale version. The prototype (Phoenix PT) is an E-genius airplane with a wingspan of almost 20 feet (6 meters) and a maximum take-off weight of 110 lbs (50 kg). In comparison, the full-scale version (Phoenix FS) is a two-seater Sling 4 aircraft with a wingspan of almost 33 feet (10 meters) and a take-off weight of 2,000 lbs (920 kg).
Phoenix PT is powered by a 1,500 W fuel cell plus a battery pack, with hydrogen being kept in a cryogenic tank and warmed to 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) through a complex tubing system. The final version, however, will be powered by liquid hydrogen. Equipped with an electric motor and powered by 1 liter (0.2 gallons) of hydrogen, Phoenix will be able to fly for seven hours or cover 500 km (311 miles), which are remarkable endurance and range values.
So far, Phoenix PT is ready for its first public flight, and the first flight for Phoenix FS, powered by gaseous hydrogen, is planned for the summer of 2022. After that, the young team at AeroDelft hopes to conduct the first full-scale, liquid hydrogen flight in two years and announce the first hydrogen-powered flight around the world in 2025.