Electric aircraft, hydrogen are tools in South Korea’s climate strategy

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Felix Kim

South Korea’s military is helping the nation reach new climate goals by deploying electric aircraft and shifting to hydrogen fuel for vehicles, according to government and industry sources.

The government announced a goal of 40% reduction in national greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in early November 2021.

In October 2021, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) unveiled a fully electric twin-seat propeller-driven trainer and a multimission tiltrotor military aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing that uses a mix of electric and conventional fuel. The aircraft were showcased in a series of promotional films at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition.

Electric motors and batteries, according to KAI, will reduce pollution while lowering operating and maintenance costs.

KAI expects the electric trainer, known as Sorigae or Black Kite, to replace the KT-1 basic trainer flown by the Republic of Korea (ROK) Air Force. The Black Kite, which is 4.7 meters tall and 11.6 meters long with an 11.2-meter wingspan, will employ augmented reality and virtual reality to improve the pilot’s training experience. The electric plane could be phased in as a replacement for the KT-1 within 15 years, KAI added. (Pictured: A computer image depicts the Black Kite electric trainer aircraft.)

As technology evolves, the company will continue to explore developing aircraft batteries and hydrogen-powered fuel cells with local and international manufacturers.

The NI-500T tiltrotor aircraft’s four rotors swivel for takeoff and landing, with two mounted on the engines and two on the tail. A video showed how the aircraft identifies targets with an electro-optical/infrared sensor. The data is transmitted to a ground station and finally to an attack helicopter.

South Korea moved closer to its goal of greenhouse gas-free, hydrogen-powered vehicles when the ROK Air Force opened its first hydrogen filling station October 26, 2021, reported Yonhap, a government-affiliated news agency. The station in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, is also for civilian use and can replenish 60 vehicles and 12 buses daily.

The government is working to boost the country’s hydrogen economy to achieve its greenhouse gas goals, Yonhap added. The ROK Air Force purchased its first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 2019 and now has 37. Between 2022 and 2026, it expects to buy 105 hydrogen vehicles.

South Korea has 117 hydrogen filling stations, and the ROK Air Force wants to build 50 more around the country. The government has set a target of 1,200 stations by 2040.

The ROK Air Force announced in 2018 its intention to increase the proportion of its renewable energy sources to 25% by 2030. It installed solar panels on barracks and other sites as part of a deal with state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp. to enhance the military’s use of renewable energy.

The ROK Air Force’s renewable energy project is projected to decrease energy expenditures and improve security against system failures due to harsh weather or cyberattacks, Yonhap reported.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.


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