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Sergey Brin’s relief aid zeppelin to use world’s biggest hydrogen fuel cell

The co-founder of Google is plotting the build of a huge relief aid zeppelin. Powered by the world’s largest mobile hydrogen fuel cell, it will be eco-friendly and aim to deliver humanitarian aid in hard to reach locations.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin is plotting something huge (in scale and scope) for the future of both eco-friendly aviation and disaster relief aid.

The billionaire worth a cool $88 billion USD has long been interested in aviation and revolutionary propulsion systems, and his secretive airship company – LTA Research and Exploration – has just put out an eye catching job listing.

Based in Mountain View California and Akron Ohio, the brief reveals that LTA is working on a 1.5-megawatt hydrogen propulsion system to bring ‘revolutionary airships to life.’ Such a sizeable fuel cell would represent a new record, hence Brin calling on engineers with 15 years’ experience in the field. Reckon you fit the bill?

Tipped as a logistical game changer for humanitarian aid, airships or zeppelins (depending on which you think sounds cooler) are able to carry large payloads over long distances and can also reach areas with destroyed or limited infrastructure, unlike planes or boats.

Delivering medical assistance and nutritional packages to displaced populations, refugees, and victims of natural disasters or war, zeppelins are a cost effective, practical, and eco-friendly way of providing relief to those who need it.

The rigid structure of LTA's airship, according to patent docs
The rigid structure of LTA’s airship – CREDIT: US Patent Application Publication

The LTA claims its airships will soon ‘complement and even speed up’ our response times to such disasters, while ‘substantially reducing the global carbon footprint of aviation.’ Promising stuff, eh?

What about this record hydrogen fuel cell will make Brin’s zeppelin so special then? Firstly, it’s worth noting that hydrogen is a cheaper solution than lithium-ion batteries, but its biggest advantage is that it will allow for far longer journeys than methods in use today.

‘Where we could go something like 125 miles with batteries, we should be able to go nearly 1000 miles using hydrogen,’ revealed Dr Josef Kallo of the German Aerospace Center.

Combining hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, these heavy and complex units are amazing feats of engineering, but bring new complications to consider – such as how to safely store tanks of liquid hydrogen and bi-product water, while dealing with a lot of heat waste.

When it comes to the actual zeppelin, LTA is planning to make use of an existing prototype dubbed the ‘Pathfinder 3’. Yet to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, this zeppelin currently makes use of batteries and aims to become a commercial form of transport for up to 14 people.

An example of what the cabin of the airship could look like
Potential cabin space blueprints – CREDIT: US Patent Application Publication

Sourcing hydrogen cell development from a third party, LTA eventually plans to retrofit its Pathfinder 3 with the new propulsion systems to carry out the humanitarian side of the business.

On that front, Brin seems more committed now than ever before. LTA made a charitable donation of more than five million face masks for the first responders during the height of Covid-19, and donated close to $3 million last year to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Brin has also showed continued support for his disaster response non-profit ‘Global Support and Development,’ which will likely operate closely with LTA in its future ventures. He pledged a hefty sum $7.5 million in the year of 2019 alone.

With the potential to axe aviation’s hefty footprint whilst also providing aid to those in need, it’s safe to say we’re definitely rooting for LTA in the months and years to come.


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