27. August 2020 | 07:26 CET
NEL ASA, PowerCell Sweden, Royal Helium - aviation as a growth market
The British company Hybrid Air Vehicles is based in Bedford, north of London, and is developing Airlander, the largest aircraft in the world. The special feature of this type, however, is that it is a hybrid of airship and aircraft. Helium keeps the airship in the air and engines control the take-off, the direction of flight and of course the landings. Special advantages of Airlander are that the crew can stay in the air for up to five days and no runway is required. The airship can take off and land on all ground level surfaces that provide a minimum size required for the giant. Currently, four diesel engines control the direction of the aircraft, but in the future two combustion engines are to be replaced by electric motors. The company assumes that Airlander needs only 25% of the energy for the same task compared to conventional aircraft.
time to read: 2 minutes by Mario Hose
Focus on supply chain protection
Royal Helium is a Canadian company focused on helium production. The noble gas cannot be produced artificially and has to be extracted from corresponding deposits in the ground. The company holds 400,000 hectares of helium rights in the province of Saskatchewan, making it one of the largest players in the market. Management plans to become a major supplier of helium in the coming years.
The largest consumer of the inert gas is the healthcare sector, followed by the manufacturing sector. The largest single customer for helium is the US space agency NASA, as the inert gas is used for pressure control in the tanks during rocket starts. Given that rocket launches will continue to increase in connection with the planned space tourism and that more and more satellites will start operating, the consumption of helium will continue to rise. In addition to SpaceX, Airlander is likely to appear more frequently in the media in the future, boosting the demand for helium.
Expertise in hydrogen production
The Norwegian plant manufacturer NEL has made a name for itself in the hydrogen industry. The company can offer solutions for the production of hydrogen and is also available as a partner in the construction of filling stations for an infrastructure of modern electric mobility. In Germany there is a network of filling stations with gasoline and diesel fuel at more than 14,000 locations and the potential for comparable hydrogen filling stations is correspondingly large.
In the coming years, the supply of energy for the electric motors used to control the airship will become increasingly important, particularly in the development of an Airlander fleet. The range of applications for hydrogen is large and it is becoming increasingly important that the generation of the energy carrier is done with a clean environmental balance.
Power generation expertise for mobility
PowerCell Sweden is another Scandinavian supplier of technologies for the hydrogen ecosystem. The company is focused on the development and production of fuel cells. A future scenario could be, for example, that the airplanes get their tanks filled with hydrogen and afterwards the fuel cells convert the energy carrier back into electricity to power the electric motors.
The origin of the electricity used to produce hydrogen is important. As long as the hydrogen is produced from renewable energy sources, the CO2 emissions when driving an Airlander can be reduced compared to conventional combustion engines. In a few years we will see which technology has become established in aviation and which partners and suppliers will benefit from it.