Airbus has revealed that it is developing a hydrogen-powered fuel cell engine. The propulsion system is being considered as one of the potential solutions to equip its zero-emission aircraft that will enter service by 2035.
Airbus will start ground and flight testing this fuel cell engine architecture onboard its ZEROe demonstrator aircraft towards the middle of the decade. The A380 MSN001 flight test aircraft for new hydrogen technologies is currently being modified to carry liquid hydrogen tanks and their associated distribution systems. The aircraft will see major modifications in 2025 and the first flight is expected in 2026.
“Fuel cells are a potential solution to help us achieve our zero-emission ambition and we are focused on developing and testing this technology to understand if it is feasible and viable for a 2035 entry-into-service of a zero-emission aircraft,” said Glenn Llewellyn, VP Zero-Emission Aircraft, Airbus. “At scale, and if the technology targets were achieved, fuel cell engines may be able to power a one hundred passenger aircraft with a range of approximately 1,000 nautical miles. By continuing to invest in this technology we are giving ourselves additional options that will inform our decisions on the architecture of our future ZEROe aircraft, the development of which we intend to launch in the 2027-2028 timeframe.”
Airbus identified hydrogen as one of the most promising alternatives to power a zero-emission aircraft, because it emits no carbon dioxide when generated from renewable energy, with water being its most significant by-products.
There are two ways hydrogen can be used as a power source for aircraft propulsion. First via hydrogen combustion in a gas turbine, second, by using fuel cells to convert hydrogen into electricity in order to power a propeller engine. A hydrogen gas turbine can also be coupled with fuel cells instead of batteries in a hybrid-electric architecture.
Hydrogen fuel cells, especially when stacked together, increase their power output allowing scalability. In addition, an engine powered by hydrogen fuel cells produces zero NOx emissions or contrails thereby offering additional decarbonisation benefits.
Airbus has been exploring the possibilities of fuel cell propulsion systems for aviation for some time. In October 2020, Airbus created Aerostack, a joint venture with ElringKlinger, a company with over 20 years of experience as both a fuel cell systems and component supplier. In December 2020, Airbus presented its pod-concept which included six removable fuel cell propeller propulsion systems.
Airbus and ArianeGroup to pioneer liquid hydrogen technology
Airbus and ArianeGroup, a joint venture equally owned by Airbus and Safran, and a world leader in space propulsion technologies, will work together to build the first liquid hydrogen refuelling facility for ZEROe aircraft at Toulouse, Blagnac airport. The station will be operational in 2025.
ArianeGroup will design, produce and support the operations of the liquid hydrogen fuelling system necessary for Airbus’ ZEROe demonstrator as it embarks on its ground and flight test campaign – due to start in the middle of this decade.
Airbus teams up to advance green hydrogen availability at airports
Airbus has signed a partnership agreement with HyPort, a joint venture between ENGIE Solutions and the Regional Agency for Energy and Climate in Occitanie (AREC), a leader in the development of green hydrogen in France, to support the development of one of the world’s first low carbon hydrogen production and distribution stations at an airport.
Construction of the hydrogen station at Toulouse-Blagnac airport was completed earlier this year and the production, storage and distribution systems are currently undergoing final testing. The station which is slated to enter-into service in early 2023 will have a capacity to produce around 400 kg of hydrogen per day, providing the possibility to power some 50 ground transportation vehicles.
Airbus is working with HyPort to put in place a deployment plan for the expansion of these hydrogen fuelled ground operations, adapting production and distribution means, as well as infrastructure capacity, to cope with the expected increase in hydrogen demand in the coming years. The partnership will also enable a blueprint to be prepared outlining requirements and providing guidance on safety of operations, regulatory compliance, social acceptance as well as the financial investment necessary for the widespread use of hydrogen at airports.
I am in Toulouse for the Airbus Summit and will write in detail about some of the topics later. Meanwhile you can follow short videos on YouTube and Instagram.