The new Boeing Phantom plane uses engines which run on hydrogen fuel. After the hydrogen is burned in the engines, only water is emitted. The plane is a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle. It will be used by the US military for surveillance purposes. The plane can fly at 65,000 feet for several days at a time and has a wingspan of 150 feet. Powered by two 150 hp four cylinder engines, it can cruise at 170 miles per hour. These engines are found in some models of the Ford Fusion, but in the Phantom they have been turbocharged and modified for high altitude flight.
“The hydrogen propulsion system will be the key to Phantom Eye’s success. It is very efficient and offers great fuel economy, and its only byproduct is water, so it’s also a ‘green’ aircraft,” says Phantom Eye program manager Drew Mallow.
Is the plane truly green though, as Mallow purports? Whether the Phantom is considered to be truly green depends on how the hydrogen fuel is being produced. At the moment, the hydrogen, which is fairly expensive to produce, is normally made from natural gas, or by using electricity which comes from burning fossil fuels. (Read here for an explanation of how making hydrogen from natural gas is not environmentally friendly.) If at some point they switch over to electricity from a renewable source like solar, or wind power, then it could reasonably be thought of as a green plane.
Edward’s Air Force base is where the plane will be tested, and they have a plan in place to install 500 megawatts of solar power. So it is possible that one day perhaps the Phantom will run on hydrogen produced from electricity generated by their solar power plant. In an article on the use of hydrogen on America.gov, Cheryl Pellerin reports, “For a process called electrolysis (running an electrical current through water to break apart the hydrogen and oxygen atoms), NREL scientists are working on producing hydrogen from water using sunlight, biomass, wind and biological sources like algae and bacteria.”
To some, it may sound absurd to even consider whether or not a military plane is environmentally friendly, given the nature of its use. Maybe some day the same technology can be integrated into passenger jets for public use. What do you think?
Image Credit: Boeing Corporation