July 24, 2021

Google co-founder would like to invent a giant airship with a huge hydrogen fuel cell

Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google with Larry Page, has undoubtedly revolutionized the Internet. Will he tackle air transport soon? No one is sure, but the recent announcement from his airship start-up raises questions, suggesting the possible future creation of a giant airship equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell to its size.

A giant stack in a giant airship

Russian-born American entrepreneur Sergey Brin is the current president of Alphabet Inc. However, TechCrunch media spotted a recent announcement from airship start-up LTA Research which Sergei Brin also owns. This one offers a job the nature of which is rather unexpected. The goal of the next recruit will be to help the start-up design a huge 1.5 MW hydrogen fuel cell. This stack will allow a giant airship to move through the air while carrying heavy loads. At first, the employee who will be hired will work on more reasonable projects.

Let us recall in passing that LTA Research is not the only company to work on this kind of gargantuan project. In 2017, Amazon and Walmart had filed for patents for future “flying warehouses”. On the other hand, wanting to develop a hydrogen fuel cell with a power of 1.5 MW is a completely new company. The most imposing battery of this kind today is that of the ZeroAvia ZA-600 aircraft. This aircraft capable of carrying around twenty passengers over approximately 800 km has a power of 250 kW.

A dangerous, but interesting project

It should be noted that large hydrogen fuel cells that also combine oxygen represent a major challenge. They are indeed heavy, complex and involve store a large amount of hydrogen. However, weighing down a flying machine in this way is logically counterproductive. Moreover, hydrogen is the most flammable of all known substances. The destruction of the Zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg in 1937 proved this. In addition, hydrogen fuel cells operate with electrolytes (molten carbonate or solid oxide) which are also a source of danger.

Zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg destroyed in 1937. Credits: US Department of the Navy / Wikipedia

Despite these drawbacks, the option of installing such batteries in airships remains very attractive. This would indeed allow multiply by eight the distance traveled in comparison with current batteries. In any case, developing a battery with a power of 1.5 MW will require years of research and an unlimited budget, which Sergei Brin could ensure thanks to his fortune estimated at 90 billion dollars.

The objective of the start-up LTA Research is not commercial, at least for the moment. The objective is initially to work with its NGO Global Support and Development to facilitate the transport of humanitarian aid to areas affected by natural disasters.