Target True Zero: Infrastructure for flight with alternative propulsion (2023)

(31 pages)

How to look for solutionsTo address the increasingly urgent climate impacts of aviation, there is great interest in alternative propulsion technologies such as hydrogen-powered, battery-electric and hybrid-electric aircraft. Hydrogen-powered aircraft and battery-electric powertrains could account for 21-38% of the global commercial and cargo aircraft fleet by 2050, based on energy estimates from the Mission Potential Aviation Industry Partnership.1Making net-zero aviation possible: an industry-backed, 1.5°C-focused transition strategy, Mission Possible Partnership, July 2022.While the timelines may seem distant, new technologies will come to market in this decade.

About the authors

This article is a collaborative effort by Sarina Carter, David Hyde, Jonathan Li, Adam Mitchell, and Michael SaposnikRobin Riedel, representing views from McKinsey's aerospace and defense practice and the World Economic Forum's Target True Zero project.

There is uncertainty about what these infrastructure changes will entail and how airports and other stakeholders can begin to prepare.Goal True Zero: Provide the infrastructure for battery and hydrogen powered flightsis a report by Target True Zero – a World Economic Forum initiative bringing together leaders from the aerospace industry – with support from knowledge partners Aviation Environment Federation, McKinsey and Aviation Impact Accelerator at the University of Cambridge. It is intended to help clarify some of the key considerations that affect reciprocating propulsion.

The report has three objectives:

  • Identify the energy and infrastructure needs for alternative propulsion to meet 2050 targets at global and airport scale.
  • Learn what the requirements for the amount and timing of investments mean.
  • Providing information on the coordination needed to provide adequate infrastructure in the aviation sector, sometimes in partnership with other sectors to achieve the objectives.

The report conclusions summarized here are based on ten key insights developed through McKinsey analysis and based on interviews with industry leaders and workshops conducted by Target True Zero.

Infrastructure for switching to alternative production

The need for clean energy in aviation could reach new heights. We estimate the energy demand required to sustain alternative-powered aircraft in 2050 and then examine the impact on aviation infrastructure.

Large amounts of clean energy are required to meet demand

Battery-electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft could account for between 21 and 38 percent of all aircraft by 2050 and meet 15 to 34 percent of the industry's global energy needs. Alternative propulsion could require between 600 and 1,700 terawatt hours of clean energy worldwide by 2050, equivalent to the energy generated by around 10 to 25 of the world's largest wind farms or a solar farm the size of Belgium. About 89 to 96 percent of the energy would be used to power hydrogen-powered aircraft, while only 4 to 11 percent would be used to power smaller battery-electric aircraft such as turboprops, regional jets and smaller narrow-body aircraft (Figure 1). .


Target True Zero: Infrastructure for flight with alternative propulsion (1)

Increased energy consumption at major airports

With the increasing spread of alternative drives, airports will need more electricity for their local operations than today. For a large hub airport looking to invest in on-site hydrogen liquefaction and battery-electric aircraft charging, the total on-site power consumption for terminals, ground support and other uses could range from 1,250 to 2,450 gigawatt hours per year, which is about five to ten times more electricity , than London Heathrow is currently consuming. To meet these demands, airports need to take steps to improve grid connections, local power distribution infrastructure and their own power plants.

Two new infrastructure value chains

Alternative drives require two new infrastructure value chains. One is battery-electric aviation, the other is hydrogen-powered aviation. These value chains may include many new partners who are not currently part of the aviation ecosystem and co-exist with the necessary sustainable aviation fuel and conventional fuel infrastructure. The industry needs new ways of sourcing, storing, processing and managing energy, and ways to deliver that energy to aircraft.

More space for clean energy production

Most airports have space for hydrogen liquefaction and storage infrastructure, but there is not enough land to generate the clean energy needed to power aircraft using battery power and hydrogen. While airports are being touted as potential energy hubs, the scale of the energy demand for alternative propulsion will make it extremely difficult to realize all energy production at airports. For example, if Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport is used as an example of a large international hub, it would need approximately 5,800 hectares of solar panels to generate enough electricity to meet its needs under the Mission Possible Partnership oversight scenario. This far dwarfs the size of the airport itself, which now covers 3,300 hectares. Given the significant footprint, most airports will likely rely on collaborations with other electricity providers in their regional ecosystems to serve them.

Investment to finance alternative drive infrastructure

Deploying the infrastructure required for alternative propulsion both inside and outside the airport will require significant investment from airports and other stakeholders. Our analysis revealed several insights related to this investment.

Investment in the value chain of alternative drives

The transition to alternative powertrains will require capital investments ranging from $700 trillion to $1.7 trillion along the entire value chain by 2050 (Figure 2). Approximately 90% of this investment will go to infrastructure outside the airport – primarily power generation and hydrogen electrolysis and liquefaction. Investments in green energy generation for aviation alone would double current projections for investments in global airports ($1.68 trillion by 2040, $84 billion per year). This makes it almost certain that aviation players will need to partner with companies in other sectors, such as energy utilities and hydrogen-using industries, to secure the necessary investments.


Target True Zero: Infrastructure for flight with alternative propulsion (2)

Investments in airport infrastructure, which make up the remaining 10% of total investments, will reach a more modest total of $66 billion to $114 billion by 2050. This equates to an additional investment of 0.8 to 1.4 years in airport conversion and expansion based on current average spend.

Investment in airport infrastructure

The investment required for the airport infrastructure when switching to alternative drives will be significantly higher at large airports than at smaller airports, but of a similar magnitude as for other large investments, such as the construction of a new terminal. An intercontinental hub could expect total investments of around US$3.9 billion across the entire value chain, including energy procurement and hydrogen production, by 2050, while the investment for a large regional airport would be around US$1.3 billion.

In comparison, the capital expenditure for an international hub or major regional airport would be roughly equivalent to that of expanding the terminal at LaGuardia Airport, or about 20% of the cost of designing the third runway at Heathrow Airport. The costs for smaller airports will be much lower as they will not need to support larger aircraft that require more advanced infrastructure.

Awards for green electricity

Alternative propulsion operators are expected to pay premiums of 76% to 86% over the market price for green power, reflecting the additional operating costs of aviation infrastructure. Another important consideration for airports and operators concerns their operating costs – particularly energy costs, as these determine the extent to which battery and hydrogen-powered aircraft are deployed. The added cost of processing and supplying airports with hydrogen and electricity results in a premium for using these types of propulsion that is conceptually similar to the "crack spread" difference between the price of a barrel of crude oil and the price of petroleum products refined from it.

Investments are now needed to meet the 2050 targets and expected energy demand

The necessary investments to achieve the infrastructure goals for alternative drives by 2050 must start now. The first elements of the airport infrastructure should be ready by 2025 to meet the expected energy needs. From investment to installation, the timeframe for electric battery infrastructure development can range from two to four years (Figure 3). Airports are already connected to the electricity grid and may have electric ground support equipment and electric vehicle chargers. While improvements in grid connectivity and energy storage systems will likely be required as battery electric aircraft become more popular, battery electric infrastructure is relatively easy to scale up.


Target True Zero: Infrastructure for flight with alternative propulsion (3)

On the other hand, hydrogen infrastructure is much less likely to be incremental. Airports may need to rebuild their on-site hydrogen infrastructure as hydrogen-powered aircraft adoption increases, or skip certain steps based on growth projections.

Cooperation to provide alternative propulsion infrastructure

The transition to alternative aircraft propulsion is complex and expensive, so airports cannot do the work alone.

Coordination of infrastructure investments

To harness the power of network effects and regional connectivity, infrastructure investments must be coordinated to enable alternative propulsion operations. While large airports will bear the highest costs when switching to alternative propulsion, the first use cases for fuels are likely to be smaller airports for battery-electric flights or single point-to-point routes between large and medium-sized airports for battery-powered aircraft. Hydrogen. Operating battery electric aircraft therefore requires a coordination of investments in smaller airports in smaller geographic regions. Hydrogen-powered aircraft require coordination between large and small airports - potentially across multiple national jurisdictions - and are therefore more challenging. To be successful, airports, operators and other stakeholders need to come together to spur action within and across regions .

Partnering to access care and shape the future

The aviation industry must work with other industries to secure sufficient green electricity and hydrogen for alternative propulsion in a constrained environment and have a say in the future of the hydrogen ecosystem. Airports can acquire sufficient hydrogen reserves and help shape the future of the industry by exploring partnerships with green energy providers for power generation and hydrogen production. They could also connect with high-demand hydrogen consumers such as refineries, steel and fertilizer manufacturers, and sustainable aviation fuel producers to supply hydrogen directly to airports. This approach would also allow airports to invest in the development of efficient electrolysis and liquefaction technologies with the aim of reducing costs and bringing production closer to the airport.

The introduction and growth of alternative propulsion in the aviation sector requires significant changes in the current value chains and requires large investments in clean energy generation, investments in airports and coordination between different stakeholders inside and outside the traditional aviation sector. The first changes could be coming soon; However, the significant changes resulting from the shift to alternative propulsion will be gradual, allowing airports and their member states to prepare accordingly.

Sarina Carteris a skills and perception analyst in McKinsey's office in Waltham, Massachusetts;Jonathan Leeis a consultant in the Washington, DC office;Adam Mitchellis an associate partner in the Toronto office, whereMichael Saposnikis a consultant;Robin Riedelis a partner in the Bay Area office; It isDavid Hydeis the Director of Aerospace Projects at the World Economic Forum.

This article was edited by Alexandra Mondalek, Editor in the New York Bureau.

Discover a career with us

search openings

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lilliana Bartoletti

Last Updated: 06/07/2023

Views: 5251

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (53 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lilliana Bartoletti

Birthday: 1999-11-18

Address: 58866 Tricia Spurs, North Melvinberg, HI 91346-3774

Phone: +50616620367928

Job: Real-Estate Liaison

Hobby: Graffiti, Astronomy, Handball, Magic, Origami, Fashion, Foreign language learning

Introduction: My name is Lilliana Bartoletti, I am a adventurous, pleasant, shiny, beautiful, handsome, zealous, tasty person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.