Hydrogen has a specific energy-per-unit mass that is three times higher than traditional jet fuel, making it an effective zero-emission energy source. However, as hydrogen has a lower energy density per unit of volume, “We need disruptive solutions to integrate the technology into an aircraft,” Airbus told H2Bulletin.
Airbus has the ambition to design and build the world’s first zero-emission (ZEROe) aircraft by 2035. “We aim to achieve this at a cost-competitive with our other aircraft development programmes,” it stressed.
H2Bulletin noted that Airbus has currently unveiled three design concepts (turbofan, turboprop and blended wing body) and all powered by hybrid-hydrogen technology. The propeller plane would carry around 100 passengers for about 1,000 nautical miles and is likely to be an ideal option for the company. The other two designs are for a 200-seat and could fly more than 2,000 nautical miles.
We are currently exploring a number of different designs (alongside the different technology pathways). “Our final decision will be made in the next two to four years (around the 2024-2025 timeframe),” the company confirmed.
Several sectors are pushing towards lowering CO2 emissions, and we are encouraged and believe the scale-up in production of hydrogen required across all these industries is within reach. Airbus has already started working with airlines and airports on the concept of ‘Airport Hydrogen Hub‘.
The plan is to develop a stepped approach, including using hydrogen to decarbonise all airport-associated ground transport (heavy goods logistics, buses, tow trucks) in the 2020 to 2030 timeframe. “This will pave the way to hydrogen availability for aircraft in the 2030 timeframe,” the world’s largest airliner manufacturer said.
The company added, “Airbus sees hydrogen as one of the most promising zero-emission technologies” because it can be produced from renewable energy, and the only significant by-products are water and vapour.
Airbus further added that the hydrogen concepts we are studying are mainly viable for intra-continental / short-haul routes. Therefore, SAF (alongside other technological innovation evolutions) will likely remain one of the carbon-reduction solutions (potentially made from hydrogen-based sources) for wide-body long-haul aircraft in the long term.
Although Airbus is working on hydrogen-powered aircrafts, it still increasing its focus on SAF. Currently, there are more than 10,000 Airbus commercial aircraft in-service, and they are all certified to fly with biofuel and synthetic fuel (up to 50% blend). It is currently exploring how to achieve flights on 100% SAF. Airbus has been offering delivery flights powered with SAF since 2016 from its centres in Toulouse, France, Hamburg, Germany and Mobile, Alabama in the US. This option is extended very soon to its Chinese facility in Tianjin, and supply to Mirabel is also under feasibility assessment. As part of the overall long-term strategy to decarbonise Airbus’ industrial operations, SAF has been progressively introduced to power the Beluga fleet since Dec 2019.
In order to scale up the sustainable production, distribution and use of SAF across the aviation industry, the right stimulus must be given to stakeholders and investors alike throughout the value chain. The only way to achieve this would be to implement adequate policy frameworks and appropriate incentivisation schemes that allow for visibility and stability for producers and investors – providing support to bridge the premium price gap to ensure enough available quantities at a reasonable cost.
Boeing is focusing more on SAF, and Airbus targets the mid-2030s for the first zero-emission passenger jet. Airbus is likely to use SAF as a bridging solution until its technology with all the infrastructure is ready. Indeed the timescale in which Airbus has set is highly challenging and would require substantial investment.
This is part 3 of a 6-part series on hydrogen in the aviation sector that will run every Friday. Our next article will focus on ZeroAvia and its works on hydrogen in the aviation sector. We also asked ZeroAvia some questions, which we will discuss in our next article. If you have any questions or want to share your views, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0) 208 123 7812