Aerospace giant Airbus announced that it is developing a hydrogen-powered fuel cell engine, with the propulsion system being considered as a potential solution to equip its zero-emissions aircraft. The company said that it aims to test the fuel cell demonstrator on its A380 flight test aircraft.
The aviation industry accounts for approximately 2-3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with that figure potentially rising dramatically over the coming decades if no action is taken. Several initiatives are being pursued in order to address the climate impact of the industry, typically involving efforts to improve aircraft efficiency, develop sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), or create aircraft utilizing low or zero carbon propulsion systems such as electric or hydrogen-based.
While many initiatives are currently targeting areas allowing for more rapid sector decarbonization, such as electrified propulsion or SAF, hydrogen is viewed by some in the industry as a more promising long-term solution, given its potential to be produced through carbon-free methods, and its energy attributes, containing significantly more energy per weight than jet fuel.
Airbus has previously announced a goal to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035, and the company stated that it has identified hydrogen as one of the most promising zero-emissions solutions, as it emits no carbon dioxide when generated from renewable energy, with water being its most significant by-products.
The company said that hydrogen can be used as a power source for aircraft either through combustion in a gas turbine, or by using fuel cells to convert hydrogen into electricity to power a propeller engine.
Glenn Llewellyn, VP Zero-Emission Aircraft at Airbus, said:
“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.”
The company announced that the hydrogen fuel-cell engine demonstrator will use Airbus’ A380 MSN1 flight test aircraft, which is now being modified to carry liquid hydrogen tanks and their associated distribution systems. The aircraft will be modified externally to carry the fuel-cell engine pod, and internally with the installation of a cryogenic tank to contain liquefied hydrogen in the rear fuselage.