The first zero-emissions commercial aircraft is coming soon! French aircraft maker Airbus announced plans to test hydrogen fuel technology using a modified version of one of their A380 jetliners, which were discontinued last year.
Airbus is also set to partner with CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, for the hydrogen demonstration program.
Airbus will use an “A380 flying testbed fitted with liquid hydrogen tanks” to trial propulsion technology for a future hydrogen aircraft.
In a video posted on the Airbus YouTube channel, vice president for zero-emission aircraft at Airbus, Glenn Llewellyn, says, “Our ambition is to take this (A380) aircraft and add a stub in between the rear doors at the upper level. That stub will have on the end of it a hydrogen-powered gas turbine.”
Llewellyn further explains that the aircraft will also be fitted with hydrogen storage and hydrogen distribution, which will feed the engine with the chemical element.
The “flight laboratory” aims to discover more about hydrogen propulsion systems in real ground and flight conditions, Llewellyn says. This enables Airbus to pursue its plans for a zero-emission aircraft in just over a decade.
Test flights may take place in 2026 should there be no disruptions. This comes over a year after Airbus unveiled three hydrogen-based concepts under the ZEROe banner.
In a statement, chief technical officer for Airbus, Sabine Klauke, said, “This is the most significant step undertaken at Airbus to usher in a new era of hydrogen-powered flight since the unveiling of our ZEROe concepts back in September 2020.”
“By leveraging the expertise of American and European engine manufacturers to make progress on hydrogen combustion technology, this international partnership sends a clear message that our industry is committed to making zero-emission flight a reality.”
2.8% of global CO2 emissions are generated by aviation. Commercial airlines’ global fuel consumption of commercial airlines also rose to 95 billion gallons in 2019, which has pushed the global aviation industry to reduce emissions to half of their 2005 level by 2050.
Many air carriers now seek to reduce the environmental impact of flying using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Plans to use SAF with 10% of its flight in 2030 were announced by British Airways’ parent company IAG. United Airlines also completed its first 100% SAF flight last year.
Airbus, on the other hand, will gamble on hydrogen, which is believed to reduce aviation’s carbon emissions by 50%.
“I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen—both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft—has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact,” says chief executive for Airbus Guillaume Faury.
In related news, aviation firm ZeroAvia is also developing a 19-seater aircraft that will launch commercial hydrogen-electric flights between London and Rotterdam in 2024.