Air travel is expected to increase, but fossil fuel use may not have to.

Fresh Air

To clean up the aviation industry, NASA-funded scientists are working to develop an all-electric aircraft powered by cryogenically-liquified hydrogen fuel.

The University of Illinois scientists behind the project nailed down $6 million over three years from NASA to develop the tech, according to a university-published press release — tech that could, if the project pans out, revolutionize the aviation industry.

Dank Hydro

Hydrogen is enjoying a bit of a moment as it finally becomes cost-effective. Europe is heavily investing in wind-hydrogen systems, and Germany recently unveiled a hydrogen-powered train.

But current hydrogen cells lacked the energy density necessary to power a jet without also weighing it down too much. Cryogenically cooling the hydrogen could give rise to fuel cells dense and compact enough to do the trick, but the technology to power a plane with them doesn't exist yet — which is where the NASA funding comes in.

"Advances in recent years on non-cryogenic machines and drives have brought electric propulsion of commercial regional jets closer to reality, but practical cryogenic systems remain the 'holy grail' for large aircraft because of their unmatched power density and efficiency," electrical engineer Kiruba Haran said in the press release. "The partnerships that have been established for this project position us well to address the significant technical hurdles that exist along this path."

READ MORE: NASA funds aviation research on a new fuel concept [University of Illinois via]

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