Lead Forensics

Airbus Believe Hydrogen-powered Aircraft Will Enable Emissions-free Flying by 2035

May 13, 2021 | Aerospace, Design, Development, Innovation

Europe’s largest aircraft manufacturer Airbus intends to have the first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft flying by 2035 and believes the fuel will replace kerosene, ultimately leading to zero-emissions aviation.

That was the prediction of Airbus vice-president of zero-emission aircraft, Glenn Llewellyn, directing its “ZEROe” project which has three prototype aircraft in development, all using hydrogen.

Renewable energy needs to power future aviation and hydrogen is potentially the best pathway through which to do so, he told a Rethink Energy webinar jointly hosted by the Institute of International & European Affairs and the ESB.

Success would depend, however, on widespread use of hydrogen in economies, Mr Llewellyn said, and renewable energy in the form of wind and solar continuing to decline in price; likewise, the cost of electricity which would be critical to produce low-cost hydrogen.

Hydrogen does not produce any emissions if generated from renewable energy through electrolysis, he said. This would essentially allow aviation to be powered by renewable energy.

He expected the cost of hydrogen to significantly decline over the next decade as its production ramps up at a large scale in transport, notably through use in trucks, rail travel and shipping. This would make it increasingly cost-competitive with existing options, such as kerosene jet fuel.

The ZEROe options, all relying on hydrogen as the main power source, are:

  • A “turbofan” design (for less than 200 passengers) powered by hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, through combustion with a range of 2,000-plus nautical miles; operating intercontinentally.
  • A “turboprop” design (capacity of up to 100 passengers) with a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines with a 1,000-plus nautical miles range; for short-haul trips.
  • A “blended-wing body” (less than 200 passengers) due to its wide cabin layout which opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution.

Airbus was investing hundreds of millions of euros in the period up to 2025 in determining which aircraft to bring to the market first. That would scale up to many billions after that, Mr Llewellyn added.

Hydrogen tanks were bulkier and heavier than existing jet fuel storage tanks which meant they needed to come up with innovative ways to integrate them into aircraft. Hydrogen is safe and non-toxic – no more or less dangerous than other fuels, including gasoline and natural gas, he said.

Asked what Airbus competitors were doing, Mr Llewellyn said they were planning for a hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft but saying “more like 2050, when we could have this solution”.

He confirmed they were “working with all the engine manufacturers”, without whom, this more aggressive course would not be possible. “We’re saying, ‘No.’ We can do this earlier, that there’s some urgency to bring these types of solutions to market, to explore them to their maximum . . . because we think it’s really important for aviation.”

See the full Irish Times article.

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