'Emission-free’ airline launches, but will green energy ever break entirely from fossil fuels?

Just the News spoke with experts about how even the greenest of green innovation still depend on conventional energy to make it possible.

Published: July 21, 2023 11:21pm

Updated: July 24, 2023 10:48am

British-based climate activist Dale Vince has launched the world’s first electric airline, Ecjet, with the ambitious plan to make zero-emission air travel a reality.

Vince in announcing his new project earlier this month said the fleet of planes will be retrofitted with hydrogen-electric powertrains, which will operate with the same output as fuel-burning ones but with "a 100%" reduction" in CO2 emissions. 

The energy from the powertrains used to deliver electricity to the planes will purportedly come from green hydrogen, which starts from using electricity from solar or wind energy.

The electricity is shot through a tank of water, causing the water to "split" into hydrogen and oxygen, a process known as electrolysis. The hydrogen is then collected, and the process is repeated.

University of California San Diego scientist Nguyen Minh thinks the process will work on a large-enough scale to fuel planes but that it will take time.

He also said green hydrogen is technically made "without any emissions," which means Ecojet, if successful, would emit zero carbon dioxide during its flights. 

However, those are only direct emissions. 

Indirect emissions, another expert told Just the News, are still part of the process, with fossil fuels being "almost exclusively" used for renewable energy technology.

Green activists "would tell you it's just the earth," the wind and solar use for energy," said Dan Kish, a senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research. "But the truth of the matter is that it takes vast amounts of energy" to make them.

In China, for example, windmills use "tremendous amounts of aluminum" and "rare earth magnets that go into the turbines," which are "all made with Chinese coal power," he also said. 

Over 90% of solar panels, as well as many windmills, end up in landfills due to how hard it is to recycle them, according to CBS News. And according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 95% of hydrogen is born from fossil fuels.

China is "more than happy that we’re going green so that they can crank up their factories and burn more coal" to build these products," Kish also said. 

Such a reality seems to be a blow to Vince’s broader mission to "end fossil fuels."

Even Stanford University has acknowledged "all renewable technologies" are linked to fossil fuels to some extent due to "emissions from manufacturing and installing them."

Regardless, Ecojet's project for zero direct emissions flights will likely require considerable financing. Aviation is one of the most challenging industries to decarbonize, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Minh and Kish point out how expensive hydrogen is, saying its retail cost is the equivalent of gasoline at $14 a gallon.

“You need to condense [hydrogen] to $3 to $4 a gallon” to compete with gasoline, Minh said. International Energy Agency analysts project hydrogen could drop 30% in price by 2030.

Still Minh and Kish aren't convinced that a world totally free of carbon emissions can happen.

"I don’t think you’ll have zero emissions," said Minh, a proponent of hydrogen who still thinks those interested in such efforts should continue to try to do their best to limit such emissions and develop technologies to achieve that goal.

"A lot of work needs to be done," also said Mihn, who made clear his expertise is in energy technologies and that he doesn't consider himself an authority on their environmental or economic impacts.

Vince did not reply to requests for comment.

Kish says the green push is "a lot of hype" and that it's "very, very hard to believe" there's a "certifiable engine train" for planes like the one Vince is touting for Ecojet.

"Good luck with that," he said.

The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook


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