Valery made the first ever flight in a new kind of electric plane in September. Now, he’s just got lots of money from some of the world’s richest businesspeople – and from the British government. They hope Valery can make clean planes to carry passengers around Britain in just a couple of years – oil-free.
Oil’s something Valery knows about. When he was growing up in Russia his father worked to pump oil out of the earth to make fuel. Valery – “Val” to his friends - was always fascinated by flying. And after he went to work in America, he learned to fly planes for fun.
Free as a bird
Since cave dwellers first watched birds swoop across the sky, humans have dreamed of being able to fly. Only recently has it become possible for many of us to travel the world in hours, to see family and friends in far-off countries. Truly amazing. For Valery, being in the air became his passion. He flew whenever he could.
But, as the years went by, he also realised that the oil that his father helped produce, and all the flying he loved to do, was damaging planet Earth. When we burn oil to power engines, it puts carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. This is one of the “greenhouse gases” that causes global warming and upsets Nature’s balance.
Batteries better than burning oil
To help the planet, Valery started a company to help people run cars on electric batteries instead of petrol. But it didn’t seem possible to do the same for the planes that Valery loved to fly, or for the big airliners that carry people round the world.
Why? Because batteries are heavy. So heavy that a plane with electric batteries can barely get off the ground – and certainly can’t carry many passengers.
Swedes keep their feet on ground
But three years ago, Valery realised that many people – and many children – did not want to sit back and accept that planes just go on burning oil and adding to global warming. Schoolchildren in Sweden asked people to help the planet by stopping travelling by air. People listened. Air travel in Sweden fell by 9 percent in a year!
Valery saw that, unless we make planes that damage the environment less, we’ll have to stop doing so much flying. And, of course, Valery loves flying... He thought about the problem, and he saw a solution - a way to take the carbon out of flying, and put the wow back in, letting us travel far and fast without harming the planet.
An answer in the water
How? The answer is hydrogen. Do you know what that is? Well, hydrogen is everywhere in the world. Add it to oxygen and do you know what it makes? Water!
The chemical formula for water is H20 - H is for hydrogen and O for oxygen.
To make Valery’s clean planes, he needs to get hydrogen. How? Well, you can’t find hydrogen just sitting around on its own. You pull it out of water with electricity. Valery uses electricity from sunshine or wind, so his hydrogen is planet friendly.
This hydrogen is then put into tanks on the wings of a plane, just like we do today with oil, or gasoline. When the hydrogen goes into a motor, it mixes with oxygen in the air to make water again – and gives off lots of energy to drive the plane. But no CO2!
Britain’s backing Val…
Last September, Valery flew a 6-seater plane using a hydrogen electric motor from his company, ZeroAvia – a world first for a plane that could carry passengers.
Now the British government is giving Valery millions to make bigger hydrogen engines in England that will be powerful enough to carry lots of passengers on trips across the country. By 2023, they hope to power planes with up to 20 people on board – and aircraft with up to 100 passengers by about six years from now.
Gambling on a dream
In 10 to 15 years, Valery reckons, big airliners with hundreds of people aboard could be flying on clean hydrogen – if we can figure out how to make it all work. It could be a big “if”. There are still lots of problems.
But other, bigger, companies are also working on similar ideas, including European planemaker Airbus
And Valery is following his dream – a dream in which, to stop global warming, we don’t have to stop flying, just look to water, not oil, to carry us through the sky.