‘Clean transport does not belong to the future’ | NT

‘Clean transport does not belong in the future’


TU Delft’s researchers are optimistic about the greener transport sector. By adapting internal combustion engines, the use of alternative fuels and other forms of, for example, ships and aircraft, emissions can be significantly reduced or even eliminated.

The global transport sector is responsible for about a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions, and transport demand is expected to double by 2040. At the same time, the effects of climate change must be limited as much as possible, including through the use of CO2-neutral energy systems. Several researchers in Delft are investigating how the transport sector can be made more sustainable in practice.

Within the Faculty of Aerospace Technology at TU Delft, Professor Arvind Gangoli Rao is engaged in research into clean internal combustion engines and predicts that dual-combustion engines running on both hydrogen and biofuels will be the future, combined with aircraft models with more aerodynamic shapes. Assistant Professor of Maritime Technology Lindert van Biert believes that fuel cells and green energy carriers can contribute to completely emission-free shipping. While Ruud Kortlever from the e-Refinery Institute of TU Delft is working on technologies to convert water and even air into fuel.

Add hydrogen

During a campus trip for journalists along the various faculties in Delft, Gangoli Rao shows Clean Combustion Lab. Here, the percentage of hydrogen that can be mixed with methane is tested to achieve minimum emissions of CO2 and nitrogen. ‘Depending on how much hydrogen an aircraft can transport, you can add up to 25%,’ explains the professor. »By mixing hydrogen with aviation fuel, a lower combustion temperature is achieved, which means fewer emissions. Then you’re talking about 1,800 degrees. The great thing about this dual combustion technique is that it can be used in existing aircraft. ‘

Clean Combustion Lab tests the percentage of hydrogen that can be mixed with jet fuel.

Gangoli Rao is excited about using hydrogen in aircraft engines. ‘Stumbling block is the amount of hydrogen and the lack of places where the fuel can be refueled.’

The lack of filling stations is overcome by choosing double combustion. ‘For example, you fly on the way there with a mixture and go all the way back to petroleum.’ The lack of space in an airplane is harder to tackle. ‘Hydrogen simply fills a lot,’ says Gangoli Rao. ‘So you can solve that primarily by designing an aircraft differently’.

Aerodynamic shape

The faculty is working on the Flying-V, a model that can best be described as a large V. ‘Due to its aerodynamic shape, the aircraft already uses 20% less fuel,’ explains Gangoli Rao. ‘Passengers, or the cargo, can enter the wings of the aircraft. We also look at hydrogen as a fuel for this model. ‘ The model is comparable in size to an Airbus A3-50 and can simply use the existing runways. However, it will be at least until 2040 before Flying-V can be seen at Schiphol. Gangoli Rao: ‘Not because it sticks to theory, but because the test phases take a long time and the investment is huge.’

According to the aviation professor, hydrogen will be the replacement for diesel within fifteen years. ‘Production must take place in the Sahara Desert or in Australia, where there is space and sunshine.’

In order to distribute all that hydrogen worldwide, Delft is also looking at reducing the amount. For example, by converting it in powder form to NaBH4 (sodium borohydride), hydrogen in volume becomes comparable to diesel.

By storing hydrogen in powder form, it fills about as much as diesel.

Hydrogen is not the only ‘green’ means, the energy conversion also depends on the use of electricity and other renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, says the professor. ‘In addition, there are many processes that generate CO2. In order to arrive at a closed system, CO2 must therefore also be stored. ‘

Fuel cells

The fuel cell has a lot to offer shipping when it comes to reducing emissions, says assistant professor Van Biert. Using the cells, you can use fuels to generate electricity without an internal combustion engine. The cells are already widely used in data centers. In the laboratories in Delft, tests are performed on how the cells adhere to the water, for example during violent wave movements. Van Biert: ‘The great advantage of fuel cells over batteries is the space required for them and the availability of the raw materials to manufacture them.’

There is a lot to be gained in shipping in terms of emissions. Delft is therefore investigating the effects of other fuels for ships (such as methane, NH3 and also hydrogen), and also here other (hull) forms are being investigated that reduce fuel consumption. The sector must be energy neutral by 2050. Van Biert: ‘The technology to realize this is there. Is it possible. But the necessary investments are high, which means that parties such as shipbuilders and also carriers see their competitive position in jeopardy. It slows down the transition to sustainable water transport enormously. ‘

The tour of TU’s faculties ends in Ruud Kortlever’s laboratory. According to Kortlever, a transition to sustainable energy cannot be seen separately from a transition to sustainable raw materials. Delft e-Refinery Institute, to which Kortlever is affiliated, plays a key role in this. He is concerned about the future of the transport sector: the production of fuel from air or water. ‘We are not there yet, but the necessary molecules are in the air.’

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