Not only is the H2 Clipper completely zero emissions, but the cost is a quarter of current air transport costs. And while this is not the end of the benefits, the future of airships is still not assured, mainly because of their history.
Airships are making a comeback, thanks at least in part to climate protection – they can be used in a very environmentally friendly way when powered by green hydrogen, and they also have a wide range of uses. There are airships that act as low-cost, quick-to-deploy and easy-to-maintain high-altitude radar systems, and although the Hindenburg tragedy is as much a part of the collective memory as the sinking Titanic, more and more people are using this device for passenger transport, which could be used to reach the Arctic as well as the stratosphere.
We’ll come back to the Hindenburg and the security issues, but for now let’s focus on the H2 Cliper, which the Californian stratup behind it believes could be the future of logistics, with a whole range of uses. The H2 Clipper is a modern airship, so it is a combination of many currents technologies: the use of stronger but lighter materials than traditional ones, modern manufacturing technology and 3D printing, as well as computer simulations. As the company states in its press release:
“The H2 Clipper will bring together a number of patented and patent-pending innovations that have opened the way to achieving significant improvements: reduced drag, improved propulsion, greater structural integrity, optimal use of solar energy and therefore 100% green hydrogen for lift-off and energy storage. In addition to these, the combination of reduced weight and increased payload contribute to safe, reliable and cost-effective commercial operations.”
As for the rainbow spectrum of applications, the following areas come to mind:
- Transporting goods directly from the factory to distribution at less than 25% of the air freight cost.
- Green hydrogen transport directly from where it is cheapest to produce hydrogen to where the need for clean energy is greatest.
- Telecom/Satellite Relay
- Long-duration at sea level cell phone and internet repeater
- Rapid transport of personnel and supplies without port or airport infrastructure.
- 100% green freight and cargo transport.
Most of the above is therefore made possible by the basic operation of the airship, i.e. its ability to take off from a fixed position and land vertically with very little ground preparation and infrastructure. It is for this reason that the H2 Clipper is able to transport goods “door to door”, i.e. directly from the factory to the distribution centre without the need for intermediate transport. Add to this the fact that the airship can carry twice the payload of a traditional truck and 8-10 times the tonnage, and you can easily understand why it costs only a quarter of the cost of traditional air transport. Where the H2 Clipper really shines is in the transport of green hydrogen, which is not just cargo for the H2 Clipper, but the lighter-than-air gas that helps the balloon to take off and stay aloft – making it particularly well suited to transport green hydrogen from the cheapest production site to where it is needed most – and in a completely emission-free way, contributing to the total zero emission of green hydrogen.
The costs are also extremely low – so a balloon is a much more cost-effective solution than trucks or the necessary infrastructure (pipes).
It is also capable of operating autonomously, so it can stay in the air for a long time at low operating costs, as with the radar systems mentioned above, and can even be equipped with repeaters. It can also be used to deliver aid to disaster areas quickly and easily.
The New Atlas article also points out that the vehicle’s range of around 9,600 km means it can travel between any two points on the planet with just one refuelling – the H2 Clipper is powered by hydrogen cells for all-electric propulsion. Back to the cost, although the airship costs a quarter of the price of air transport, it’s still far more expensive than sea transport. Another issue, of course, is that, unlike the latter, the transport is direct from the factory to the distribution centre, i.e. there is no need to load the goods onto trucks or trains at the ports, nor is there a need to wait in port due to traffic jams or other delays. In the long term, the fact that this area is likely to be subject to very heavy carbon taxes in the future is not a strong argument in favour of maritime transport, so that a comparison of prices is really worthwhile.
The New Atlas also looks at the general perception of safety, which is still shaped by the more than 80-year-old tragedy of the Hindenburg. It is therefore clear that many see airships as the future of freight transport (and therefore also passenger transport) – in addition to the H2 Clipper, the Russian Aerosmena is also using airships to capture the logistics market of the future. And with modern engineering, experts say it is feasible to use hydrogen safely for this purpose, but it is also a bit of a gamble, not so much in terms of safety as in terms of millions of dollars invested – developing the next generation of airships is not cheap, and there is always the risk that regulators will eventually shut it down because of entrenched beliefs.