Decarbonization: From EAGLE to EGAN

The current year began on a sad note when the German government froze the funding of SAF projects previously supported by the state. This also affected the Berlin-Brandenburg initiated EAGLE project, including the SAF-startup, Spark e-Fuels. But “standstill” is not part of Berlin-Brandenburg Aerospace Alliance’s (BBAA) genes as is shown now. While the EAGLE mission took off in 2022, at the Berlin-held air show ILA, the upcoming ILA 2024 (05-09JUN24) will unveil its successor, EGAN: European Green Airport Network.

New hope for Green Airports “Silicon Valley”

Four European regions which support the decarbonization targets of previously selected airports in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, have signed an LOI. The common goal is to align and agree on optimized carbon-free fuel pathways to achieve the zero CO2 emissions target. It is no coincidence that the Berlin-Brandenburg region first reached out to their French partners in the Occitanic region with their local cluster Aerospace Valley, centered in Toulouse (Francazal Airport). Both regions had presented their joint strategy to a broader aviation public already at ILA 2022.

H2 maiden flight

This presentation triggered further interest from the now partnering regions Northern Norway (Bodø Airport) and the Dutch province Flevoland (Lelystad Airport). Besides their joint objectives, these regions are complementary in their capabilities, offering and achieving mutual collaborative benefits and learning from each other. Norway holds the uncontestable championship in renewable energy supply, the Netherlands has the most advanced hydrogen valley and energy storage systems, and Toulouse is the natural cradle of several H2 (hydrogen) and hybrid-electric aircraft manufacturers. One of them recently performed the first maiden flight of a French-made H2 aircraft: France’s First Manned Hydrogen-Electric Flight (also see photo).

Beyond Aero’s “Blériot”, France’s 1st H2 aircraft following its maiden flight. Pictured are Mrs. Irwin Kerboriou, Lead H2 Airport Ops Manager, Beyond Aero (centered). Flanked by Einar Sørensen, Norway (left), Hugo Duchemin, France (right), strategic advisors to the European Green Airport Network.

Sector coupling with H2 for multiple offtake

Back to Berlin-Brandenburg: With the H2 hub concept at their two airports Schönhagen and Strausberg, the BBAA developers have created a model that is inspiring more regions and partners to participate in this project. Backed by an EU-financed study, a coherent system of locally generated renewable energy was established. This includes the production and supply of green hydrogen for air- and landside use, sector coupling for regional mobility, and SAF production for regional and business aviation. The entire package is aimed at developing low to zero greenhouse gas emission aviation. The European network partners intend to implement upcoming H2 safety and refueling standards for aviation as soon as their jointly achieved results are ratified. This said, it is expected that Berlin’s H2 aircraft manufacturer, APUS Zero Emissions, will soon be joined by its Toulouse-based peers, Beyond Aero and Blue Spirit Aero, with the latter planning a zero emissions aircraft version for transporting express shipments.

Airfreight as innovation driver

As proven by existing SAF projects, exemplified for instance by Schenker-supported Lufthansa Cargo freighter flights between Frankfurt and Shanghai, H2 Aviation can benefit from a first mover effect once the concept allows for transporting cargo consignments. A role model could be played by the APUS i-5 “Hydrogen” aircraft, because the manufacturer plans to construct a cargo variant. Another hot candidate is drone airline, Dronamics, that intends to use a fuel cell propulsion system in its Black Swan cargo drone aircraft. When it comes to air freight, there is no “chicken vs egg” problem in the use of hydrogen technology. Airport areas will naturally grow into hydrogen valleys capable of locally producing SAF out of green hydrogen based on a Fischer-Tropsch process. Meanwhile, service stations in those areas will be used by cargo trucks that feed into freighter airports. The cargo community is well aware of the fact that air freight spends much more time on the road than in the air, due to the fact that the catchment area of each major airline covers an entire continent by road, with only a few hubs allowing for large-scale freighter uplift. Hence, it can be expected that air freight will embark on the green avenue beginning on roads, followed by air uplifts. D

Green trucking

This also because the recent vote by the European Parliament is increasing the pressure on truck operators. CO2 emissions from large trucks will have to be reduced by 45% for the period 2030-2034, 65% for 2035-2039, and 90% as of 2040. Conveniently, some truck manufacturers have found a way to install the H2 tanks underneath the cargo area, this way freeing them from their place behind the driver’s cab. Hence, the needed standard length for accommodating four cargo ULDs can be maintained. This “green road” concept is part of the EGAN advance.

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