Do hydrogen fuel cells make sense for zero emission aircraft?

Do hydrogen fuel cells make sense for zero emission aircraft?

With a target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 within the aircraft industry, are hydrogen fuel cells a viable alternative power source to make zero emission aircraft possible?

We explore zero emission aircraft targets and the role that hydrogen fuel cells have in facilitating the move to ‘Jet-Zero’.

Zero emission aircraft targets

Did you know, £113 million is currently being invested into hydrogen and all-electric flight technologies by the UK government and industry? This was announced in February 2023, with the aim of making guilt-free flight possible, and also to support green jobs across the UK. This will also put the UK at the forefront of reducing global aviation emissions.

ICAO reports GHG emissions from international aviation could increase by a factor of two to four times 2015 levels by 2050. Globally, aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018. While this may seem like a relatively small amount, consider that if global commercial aviation had been a country in the 2019 national GHG emissions standings, the industry would rank number six in the world between Japan and Germany.

Can hydrogen fuel cells help meet zero emission aircraft targets?

Do hydrogen fuel cells have a role to play in meeting zero emission aircraft targets?

The limitations of batteries and the focus on zero emissions within the aviation industry means that aircraft manufacturing companies are turning to fuel cells to meet these requirements. The major challenge will be achieving the necessary power density that makes flight possible, but it looks like hydrogen fuel cells are the best technical solution for zero emission aircraft up to regional size (less than 100 seats).

Compared to alternative power sources, the key benefits hydrogen fuel cells offer zero emission aircraft applications are:

  1. Energy density – hydrogen and fuel cells provide better energy density than batteries, making fuel cells up to 3-5x more effective. Batteries can take typical eVTOL aircraft up to 150 miles, whereas hydrogen fuel cells could enable zero emission eVTOL aircraft to fly up to 475 miles. Conventional aircraft could travel up to 1200 miles on hydrogen fuel cells.
  2. Safety – the aviation industry believes that a high degree of safety can be achieved with a hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft.
  3. Operational – hydrogen offers rapid refuelling times like conventional aircraft, , unlike battery charging which takes longer. Additionally, fuel cell systems have no internal mechanically moving parts in the fuel cell stack, reducing the time between service internals.
  4. True zero emissions – Alternative options such as combusting Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) releases carbon emissions and burning hydrogen releases nitrous oxides which is a harmful greenhouse gas.


Our solutions for zero emission aircraft

Intelligent Energy is a partner in the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI). This is a funded project with the aim of developing hydrogen fuel cell solutions that will make zero emission aircraft possible. We’re working with lead partner GKN Aerospace and this £54 million project is the largest ATI project to-date!

IE is also working with several major aircraft manufacturers who are looking to utilise the IE-FLIGHT system for their programmes.


For more information on the work Intelligent Energy is doing to help make zero emission aircraft possible with other, major eVTOL manufacturers looking to utilise the IE-FLIGHT system for their programmes, please get in contact with us today. Complete our contact form or send us an email at