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Hydrogen-powered aircraft developers in Japan to receive aid

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An artist’s rendering of an Airbus zero-emission aircraft powered by hydrogen. Courtesy of Airbus via The Japan News

Hydrogen-powered aircraft developers in Japan to receive aid

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has decided to provide financial support for domestic manufacturers to aid in the development of next-generation aircraft fuelled by hydrogen, the Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

With decarbonisation efforts spreading worldwide, the ministry seeks to improve the competitiveness of Japanese companies through the commercial development of aircraft that emit small amounts of carbon dioxide.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has expressed his intention to set up a two trillion yen ($19.2 billion) fund to support companies that invest in the environmental field, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The envisioned support will be paid from this fund.

Hydrogen aircraft use liquid hydrogen as fuel and do not emit CO2. Because liquid hydrogen is extremely cold at minus 250C or lower, a large, highly durable storage tank is required. The development of specially designed engines is also essential and will involve massive costs.

There are no manufacturers in Japan that build finished airplanes, like European aerospace manufacturer Airbus SE or Boeing Co of the US.

However, a number of Japanese companies, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, IHI Corp and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd, produce engines and major components for aircraft.

The ministry plans to subsidise part of the costs for developing engines and components for hydrogen aircraft.

In September, Airbus announced that it will commercialise a zero-emission aircraft fuelled by hydrogen by 2035. Development of hydrogen airplanes is expected to get into full swing around the world, and hydrogen aircraft may appear in the 2030s.

Electric aircraft are also expected to be developed as environmentally friendly aircraft. It is essential to develop high-performance batteries and motors for this purpose, and the ministry also plans to earmark subsidies in the fiscal 2021 budget for technological developments related to electric aircraft.

The funding comes as airline companies have cut back on aircraft orders due to the spread of novel coronavirus and the fact that related manufacturers have fallen on hard times.

To stem the decline in development-related investments, the ministry has decided to offer the financial support.



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