Airships could be a cheap and efficient replacement for cargo ships

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Many scientists are concerned about the problem of atmospheric pollution and global warming, so they are studying various ways to prevent the crisis. A team from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis proposed reusing airships as a greener and more efficient alternative to shipping.

Economic and environmental benefits

For transport  accounts for about a quarter of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, and sea transport accounts for about 3% of this volume, and this figure is gradually increasing. However, scientists have recently suggested using airships again to transport goods between continents..

Airships rely on airflow and therefore have clear advantages over cargo ships in terms of both efficiency and emission reduction. carbon dioxide.

Jet air flows westward at an average speed of about 165 km / h. With such winds, a lighter than air balloon can fly around the entire globe in about two weeks (while a ship will take 60 days) and will spend only 4% of the fuel consumed by a seagoing vessel..

Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis also propose to use airships not only for transporting goods, but also hydrogen, which can be used both as lifting gas and as fuel. This will bring additional benefits as the hydrogen economy evolves..

Safety first

At the mention of airships, many people still have associations with the tragic disaster of 1937 in Hindenburg, when 36 people died as a result of a hydrogen fire, and this type of transport began to be considered unsafe. Since the IIASA proposal does not completely eliminate this risk, it is not suitable for passenger transportation.

However, scientists say the risks of fire are significantly reduced by using new materials that are lighter, more durable and resistant to fire, such as graphene. In addition, they propose to lay flight routes bypassing densely populated areas, as well as provide for a self-destruction system in the stratosphere, and safe evacuation of cargo (for example, using parachutes) in case of problems with the operation of the balloon..

Most modern airships use helium instead of hydrogen as lift gas. Since helium is an inert gas, its use is safer, but it is less effective, since such ships are heavier than air and several times more expensive than hydrogen. However, some companies are planning to start using helium balloons to deliver cargo to remote regions in the coming years..

Airships could be a cheap and efficient replacement for cargo ships

Efficiency and expediency

The most energy intensive part of the workflow is the descent, when the airship’s lift gas must be pressurized. If the energy released during depressurization (ascending) can be collected, stored and reused for descent, this will significantly reduce energy consumption. In this case, hydrogen fuel on board can be supplemented by solar panels on the surface of the hull..

Nevertheless, according to IIASA, if you start using balloons for transporting goods right now, then it will be 10-50 times more expensive than using ships, which is already a mature technology that has been developing for hundreds of years..

In order for airships to compete with conventional maritime transport, the cargo industry will need to invest at least $ 50-100 billion in the development of this direction over the next two decades..

text: Ilya Bauer, photo: Shutterstock

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