Liam Megill is one of the brains behind AeroDelft, which is actually not a startup but a student-led organization created in Delft University of Technology or TU Delft in Germany with the dream of making aviation a more sustainable industry. With their motto being “Our future flies into clean skies,” they have created a liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft prototype in the hopes that the big players will follow suit and work towards building airplanes that run on sustainable fuels.
What started as a student team designing human-powered submarines came the idea to form a student team focused on building aircrafts. Not only were they able to experiment with reducing drag and increasing efficiency by drilling holes onto the sides of an airplane’s wings, but they were also ultimately able to reduce emissions by using liquid hydrogen as their fuel.
Why liquid hydrogen? Well, one of the reasons is because it is energy-dense. In fact, liquid hydrogen is already being used in rockets albeit in different ways. With rockets, the liquid hydrogen is combusted, however, for AeroDelft, they plan on using it in a fuel cell.
One of the problems that comes with using liquid hydrogen is its storage, as it needs to be stored at extremely low temperatures. And though its storage temperature is –250 degrees Celsius, it won’t run at this same temperature, so it needs to be cooled for their liquid hydrogen-powered fuel cell to run. But despite these challenges, they have successfully built a remote-controlled prototype of a liquid hydrogen-powered aircraft that is a third of the size of an actual aircraft.
Because they are still in the process of figuring out the direction they want to take AeroDelft in in terms of turning it into a startup, they decided for AeroDelft to remain as a student team for now to give more students the opportunity to be a part of this development. However, Liams says that creating a spinoff from AeroDelft is something they are considering, as that is another challenge they face: not having any funding since they are not a startup.
For the aviation industry, Liam says 10 years feels like just a day, since it takes that much time to build or design a new aircraft. And so, in 10 years, he hopes to see the first hydrogen-powered aircraft in the skies as well as reduced emissions and fuel consumption. He also talks about what companies are doing, such as Airbus with their ZEROe project which aims to produce the world’s first zero-emission aircraft by 2035.
Liam’s key lessons and quotes from this episode were: