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How about flying hydrogen

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization, Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

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  • Dec 22, 2021

Everyone is worried about the amount of energy it takes to compress hydrogen. I am not.

Here is a far better idea for moving hydrogen around the world.

Massive airships, where the cargo is also the lift.

Fly to the site, hook up the airship and drain it, then ship the empty airship back to its fill location.

Some compression of hydrogen can be done in the envelope to increase the energy density, without the massive losses of compression.

these airships might be massive or a flock of them might fly in formation with the lead ship crewed and the others autonomous.

Small airships might take crew between the large ones to do inspections and repair.

Now tell me how crazy I am.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 22, 2021

You're not crazy, Doug, unless you've already signed up to be a pilot.

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Dec 29, 2021

Known materials issue that was solved more than 40 years ago. It was the way the skin was made and the materials used that caused the fire, not the hydrogen, and the hydrogen escaped upward, it was the skin that caused the deaths.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 31, 2021

From your link:

"And it [the theory static electricity ignited the airship's skin] doesn’t change the essence of the Hindenburg disasterwhich is that a giant airship was completely destroyed by fire in less than a minute because it was inflated with hydrogen.”

Since that day, all non-thermal (hot-air) airships have been filled with 100% helium. There's a reason.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Dec 22, 2021

Now tell me how crazy I am.

On a scale of 1 - 10, maybe a 7?

The idea isn't utterly and completely crazy. There may even be the kernel of something interesting there.  But it wouldn't be practical in the form you'v suggested. Two big problems: the ultra-low density of hydrogen gas, and the unkindness of wind sheer in the atmosphere to large gossamer structures. It can easily tear them apart. That can possibly be circumvented, but the density problem is pretty fundamental. Some numbers:

  • The envelope of the Hindenburg had a volume of 200,000 cubic meters. The mass of 200,000 cubic meters of hydrogen, at standard atmospheric pressure, is 17.8 tonnes. Since an airship has to fly at some distance above sea level and since the envelope can't be entirely filled with hydrogen, a non-rigid airship the size of the Hindenburg might deliver 15 tonnes of hydrogen as "cargo".

15 tonnes of hydrogen is the energy equivalent of about 15,000 gallons of petrol -- about one millionth the load of an average oil tanker.

As to more "conventional" approaches to transporting hydrogen, the story there is not so good either. CleanTechnica just published this, saying that shipping liquid hydrogen would be at least 5 times as expensive as LNG.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Dec 27, 2021

Not so sure it is a great idea to fly a huge airship laden with a cargo of presumably liquefied hydrogen. Would be unfortunate if the bomb came down in heavy weather on top of a town or city. The zeppelins and helium airships have had trouble staying aloft in the atmosphere.

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Dec 29, 2021

Not liquid, but gaseous. 

Hydrogen rises at about 20 meters per second, so if the ship when down, very little damage would be due to hydrogen. 


The first Goodyear airship flew more than 95,000 miles in the 1930s without incident, goodyear has flown over 20 million miles since 1925 and since then has only had 1 fatality. 


The US Navy airship program has a similar good safety record. 


The Graf Zeppelin, a sister ship to the Hindenberg flew over 1 million miles before being retired. The USS Los Angeles saw similar mileage for the US Navy. 

Doug Houseman's picture
Thank Doug for the Post!
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