European aviation manufacturer Airbus has unveiled concepts for hydrogen powered commercial aircraft that could be flying by 2035.
Following in the footsteps of the growing electrification of the passenger vehicle market, the next frontiers are the commercial vehicle market and the more challenging maritime and aviation sectors.
Airbus, with the ambition to lead decarbonisation in the aviation industry, has developed three concept designs based on different technology pathways and aerodynamic configurations. All are hydrogen powered, the option that the company considers holds the best promise as a clean aviation fuel.
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The three concepts, codenamed ‘ZEROe’ are turbofan, turboprop and blended wing designs.
The turbofan design with a capacity of 120-200 passengers, is powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen through combustion. The liquid hydrogen is stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead. With a range of 2,000+ nautical miles, the design is suited for transcontinental use.
The turboprop design with a capacity up to 100 passengers uses a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan and also is powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines. This design with its more than 1,000 nautical mile range is suited to short-haul trips.
The blended wing body design in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft has a capacity up to 200 passengers and a range similar to that of the turbofan concept. The wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution as well as for cabin layout.
“This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole,” says Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO, in a statement. “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.”
Airbus intends to mature designs and layouts and evolve viable products from these concepts.
Faury adds that the transition to hydrogen will require “decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem.”
A hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure will be needed at airports. Government support also will be needed with increased funding for research and technology and mechanisms to encourage the use of sustainable fuels and the early replacement of less environmentally friendly aircraft.
“Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”
The aviation industry has been active in pursuing improvements in efficiencies and reductions of carbon emissions and has previously committed to reducing its 2005 emission levels by half by 2050.