From These Scientists Want to Bring Back Zeppelins in a Big Way, “Their proposed cargo airship is ten times bigger than the Hindenburg.”

It seems you just can’t keep a good idea…or an airship…down. Airships, a.k.a., Zeppelins, were a technology that seemed to literally crash and burn over eighty years ago. Yet, they may be on their way back, and for reasons of greenness.

Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, have suggested that completely automated, hydrogen-filled airships might be the greenest and cheapest way to move cargo in the modern world. Where a cargo-carrying container ship is notorious for its large carbon footprint, neo-Zeppelins could be downright green. They could carry similar payloads as a cargo ship, but then drift into the upper atmosphere and let the winds push them from there, using its onboard engines only for minor course corrections.

Of course, hydrogen is flammable and that’s a danger, but the researchers think that modern materials and gas-handling techniques could render the ships pretty darn safe. And, since they’d be completely automated, you might not care particularly if they weren’t. Even in the event of a disaster, so long as the airship wasn’t over a populated area, no humans would die. Your cargo would roast, obviously, but there wouldn’t be a crew to lose.

So, who knows? Maybe the future belongs to two obsolete technologies, both of which no longer seem so obsolete — the hydrogen-filled airship, and the sail, just like the kind that propelled wooden around the oceans for long generations.