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Airbus presents concepts for hydrogen-powered aircraft



PARIS – Airbus has presented three visual concepts for emission-free aircraft that will run on hydrogen.

It is the aircraft manufacturer’s recent drive to bring the public’s attention to its “zero emissions” ambitions as European governments push for cleaner technology in their post-COVID recovery plans.

Airbus has set a 2035 deadline to bring a carbon-free airliner into service, which a target engine maker like Safran has said is ambitious.

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The “ZEROe” initiative includes concepts for two conventional-looking aircraft: a turbofan engine that can carry 120 to 200 people over 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) and a turboprop that can carry up to 100 people over 1,000 nautical miles.

Unlike normal airplanes, the engines would be adapted to burn liquid hydrogen stored in the rear fuselage.

A third proposal includes a revolutionary “blended wing body” design similar to the one presented in February.

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At the same time, Airbus is working on a demonstrator. First results are expected in 2021.

“With the demonstrator we can judge the most promising architecture,” said Grazia Vittadini, Airbus Chief Technology Officer, in an interview.

“We see it ultimately for all Airbus products.”

To meet its 2035 target, Airbus would have to select technologies by 2025, she said. Other industry executives said such a clean disruption to propulsion could last through 2040.

One of the challenges is to find ways to safely store volatile liquid hydrogen during flight at very cold temperatures.

Airbus rejected concerns that hydrogen was unsafe and called for massive investments in new energy infrastructures.

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While hydrogen has been discussed since the 1970s, it remains too expensive for widespread use. Proponents say that infrastructure investments and increasing demand will bring costs down.

Most of the hydrogen used today is derived from natural gas, which creates carbon emissions.

However, Airbus said the hydrogen used for aviation would be produced from renewable energy sources and obtained from water through electrolysis. It’s a carbon-free process when powered by renewable electricity, but currently more expensive.

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