Can you explain  how the airship would work?

Well, the ship would be equipped with two very large propellers. It uses these for propulsion, just like regular rotors, but when it runs out of fuel, it does not land.
It anchors down on a cable, like a kite, 100 meters above ground level. After securing the anchor, it then inverts its rotors. These then work as wind turbines. The turbines generate electricity and in turn, electricity and water gives you hydrogen.
This hydrogen is the lift gas, but also the clean fuel for the engines. You store it inside the ship, until you ‘filled up the tank’, so to speak, with enough to fly on.

The overall result is an airship that is not very fast, but is extremely autonomous. It can regenerate its own fuel and lift gas from wind and water and as such is a true zero-emission vehicle, on par with a sailing ship.

Isn't hydrogen what was used in the old zeppelins? As in the Hindenburg disaster? Why would you want to use that?

Yes, hydrogen is what was used inside the Hindenburg. In 1937 that airship went down in flames and since then all airships have been filled with non-combustible helium.
But it’s also true that over the last 20 years a lot of research has been done into the safe use of hydrogen as a clean fuel for cars.

When you burn hydrogen in an engine, the only emission is water vapor. Because of this, hydrogen is a fantastic energy source. From all the possible solutions for energy storage, this one is the most radical, the most elegant and the most beautiful solution.
It’s quite a simple chemical process that’s involved. You take water, H2O, and you split it with clean electricity into its components, H2, hydrogen and 02, oxygen. This H2, the hydrogen, can be stored for later use as fuel and after combustion; you end up with water again. You start and end with water. You create a clean, closed cycle without producing harmful substances or using toxic batteries.

Hydrogen is what we need to make alternative energy sources, like wind and solar, more flexible. What we want to do is store solar power for a cloudy day, and today we can’t do that in a scalable way. Ok, we have batteries, you can run a house on those. But they’re limited in size, you; can’t run a village on battery power, never mind a city. With hydrogen you can do that. And we have the technology.
Iceland is converting to a hydrogen system already. They don’t have oil resources, but what they do have is huge geothermal resources; They are using these to produce hydrogen for their vehicles.

BMW has a hydrogen car parked in Brussels. Only, you can’t use this car in any practical way as long as there are no hydrogen refueling stations all over Europe. These kinds of innovations, that need an entire new infrastructure for them to be useful, very seldom get realized.
And worse, those cars are polluting the very story of clean power they are trying to tell.

When you put hydrogen in a car, what you’re really saying is “It’s a clean fuel, it’s a replacement for gasoline.” And that’s wrong!
You get the gasoline from the ground, but the hydrogen has to be created first. It’s an energy carrier, not an energy source. It’s a replacement for a battery, not for fuel. And if you drive that car on hydrogen, created with electricity from a coal-firing plant, you’re getting nowhere.
Actually, it’s even worse than that. Commercial hydrogen today is refined from natural gas. That’s just nonsense!

I think that’s a big problem. It’s perfectly viable to introduce a new piece of technology as a high-end, expensive product. Over time it will get cheaper, it will get better, it will have a greater range in the future and be more efficient. Having it cost more and perform less for now is a legitimate compromise. But if you compromise the very story of clean power you’re trying to tell, if you distort the working principle behind it,  I think you’re undermining your own product.

That’s where this airship is a much better solution. Because;
a) It generates its own hydrogen; it does not need new infrastructure.
b) It does so using wind power; it is a true zero-emission vehicle.
This solution actively engages both sides of this hydrogen cycle, not just combustion, but also production.…..and storage space, the biggest technological issue with hydrogen cars, just isn’t a problem inside a 90-meter airship.
An airship like this would circumvent the obstacles preventing the introduction of hydrogen cars today. It would be a uniquely visible and autonomous demonstration platform.

It would be a flagship for a clean hydrogen technology. A beast, 90 meter long, that needs to rest in order to restore its power levels. It’s free to roam the entire planet.
The ship could be an operational expedition ship, without the need for any local infrastructure.
At the same time I’m saying, let’s not build this just for its practical use. Let’s build it because it’s beautiful.
Let’s build it because it has a story to tell, a valuable and important story about a more responsible and sustainable way of dealing with energy as a finite resource.



But how about safety?

Look, today we have safe hydrogen cars. Why? Because we spent a lot of time testing and improving them. Same for safe hydrogen planes and ships. If we don’t have safe hydrogen airships then that’s foremost because nobody has tried to develop them.

All ideas on hydrogen airships, even those in authorative publications, are anecdotal or based on observations dating back to before WWII, and it’s a very misguided discussion.
Up until the present day serious people are speculating about the cause of the Hindenburg fire. I say, don’t speculate, do the experiments. Build a hydrogen balloon, put it on fire and see what you can learn. But nobody seems to have really gone to that effort. Cars are a billion-dollar industry. Airships are a marginal niche market.

I haven’t been able to find any publications on systematic tests with hydrogen balloons of any substantial scale.

Adisson Bain, a former NASA-engineer is one of the authorities on the Hindenburg disaster. His experiments were combustion tests on small pieces of cloth. But you can’t rescale combustion tests! A match doesn’t burn the same way a forest does!
And by the way, I don’t care how that fire got started. That’s the wrong question to ask. I want to know why that thing burned so terribly fast.
So I did do those experiments on a substantial scale, and I’m saying you’re wrong if you think you can’t develop a safe hydrogen balloon. You can argue I need to do a lot more experiments, and I need to test for a hundred different contingencies, and you would be right.

But the only sensible way to discuss safety is by doing physical, documented experiments and inviting other people to repeat and confirm them.


What's wrong with current airships?

The shape, for starters.

That typical cigar-shape is aerodynamically the most efficient shape. It’s the shape you want, if you want to make the airship go as fast as possible, but it is also a very complex and expensive shape to build.
You need scaffolding for starters; otherwise the thing will roll over. In modern blimps the hull is one single, giant, integrated component. A single skin creates both structural integrity, a gastight layer and protection from the elements. It needs to be perfect, if it fails you lose all functionality. It determines the entire configuration of the ship. It’s very high-tech, very difficult to build.  And all this effort is being expended in order to maximize a property it isn’t any good at anyway!.

Making a fast airship was a good idea 80 years ago, when these things were the best things in the air. Today they are slower than helicopters. Even if they try very hard they are inherently slow.

I believe that for a good design, you need to optimize the strengths of a concept, not try to compensate for its weaknesses. Accept its shortcomings; an airship will always be slower than an airplane and less maneuverable than a helicopter. So forget speed, what you need to do is identify what’s unique to the zeppelin.
What can an airship do that nothing else can? Thàt should be the starting point for the design, and not the aerodynamics of the hull.

What would that starting point be? What can't you do in a helicopter?

Step outside and have a cup of coffee…


A number of companies are using their airships for panoramic tours. Only, they put the passengers inside a small cabin under the belly of the ship. That’s a good place when you’re the pilot and you want to land, but a really silly place to enjoy the trip.

An airship offers you a lot more space. The only requirement is that you need to keep the weight down. So put a loft inside, with 2 panoramic windows!  Add a terrace, with sliding doors so you can step outside. Turn of the engines, and you convert the ship into a balloon. There will be no wind, and the clouds will be below you.
Enjoy the sun on your face…

An airship will never be a good motor boat, but it can be a perfect sailing yacht.

If we love sailing, it’s not because of the speed, it’s because of its elegance. And you don’t steer it from inside, you stand on the deck to feel the wind and the sun on your face.
I think airships share the much of the same qualities that make us cherish the old-fashioned, slow, unreliable, 3000-year-old concept that sailing is.

So design it to maximize the flight experience. Make it about the journey, not about arriving on time. Wear a scarf and pilot the thing like riding the back of the whale!

So you intend to design a luxury flying yacht?

Well, if it was only that, it would be quite boring. But there’s another side to this comparison with sailing.

Even though they are slow, and outdated, and no longer used for commercial transport, there’s nothing else that can do what a sailing boat can.
It can take you single-handedly around the world, on nothing but biscuits, oranges, water and a clean power source! Up till today there is nothing out there that gives you the same freedom and autonomy that a small sailing boat does!
And while it is true that a lot of modern ships are luxury items, the coolest boat in Rio is not the 50-foot cocktail bar, it’s the 5-meter dingy parked next to it that just crossed the Atlantic.

Again, design a concept from its strengths. An airship can stay in the air for as long as it likes without using fuel. Translate this into endurance: translate it into autonomy.
Yes, travel in style, yes enjoy the experience. But the Rainbow Warrior is also a sailing ship.

Design an airship that can use the wind, instead of fight it. Make it independent. Keep it airborne. Give it a clean, self-sustaining power source. Take it around the world.
What you will have is a unique, zero-emission expedition vessel with the capability to anchor over the Amazon for a month.

















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