Airbus Takes The Next Step in Sustainability
Hydrogen-powered flights are a long-time goal of the aerospace industry that could become a reality thanks to Airbus’s three ZEROe. The ZEROe concept aircraft are powered by hydrogen combustion through modified gas turbine engines and aim to become the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035.
Hydrogen’s energy-per-unit mass is three times higher than that of traditional jet fuel. If generated from renewable energy through electrolysis, hydrogen emits no CO2 emissions, generating renewable energy to potentially power large aircraft over long distances without undesirable emissions.
All three ZEROe concepts are hybrid-hydrogen aircraft powered by hydrogen combustion. In addition, hydrogen fuel cells create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system. All of these technologies are complementary and the benefits are additive.
In 2022, Airbus launched the ZEROe demonstrator to test hydrogen combustion technology on an A380 multimodal platform. Through ground and flight testing, Airbus “expects to achieve a mature technology readiness level for a hydrogen-combustion propulsion system by 2025,” said Damien Sternchuss, Vice President and Head of Airline Marketing for Latin America and the Caribbean, Airbus.
Airbus aims to become a pioneer for sustainable aviation. While aviation only generates 2.5 percent of the global CO2 emissions, the OEM is committed to reduce these emissions, said Sternchuss. Some of Airbus’s first attempts included jet-age aircraft that reduced CO2 emissions by 80 percent. “These also reduced noise by 75 percent, which is very important when operating in urban areas,” said Sternchuss.
Airbus’s goal is to operate with 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) before 2030 and to be the first major manufacturer to offer a climate neutral commercial aircraft by 2035. The OEM aims to reach zero-emission aviation by 2050. The ZEROe is the materialization of these efforts.
The first of these three aircraft is a turbofan designed for 120-200 passengers with a range of over 2,000 nautical miles, capable of operating trans-continentally and powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel. In this case, the liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.
The second eZERO aircraft is a turboprop for up to 100 passengers, which uses a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan. This aircraft is powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines. The aircraft would be capable of traveling over 1,000 nautical miles, making it a perfect option for short-haul trips.
The last one is a “blended-wing body” design for up to 200 passengers. In this model the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft. The exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution and for cabin layout. This model would have a similar range than the turbofan.
To seamlessly operate these aircraft, collaboration with airports is fundamental, said Sternchuss. Airports transport heavy goods including machinery, buses, trucks and aircraft, but they could also become hydrogen hubs in preparation for zero emission aviation.
As part of its sustainability efforts, Airbus had previously introduced its 100 percent SAF aircraft family. “These operated with 25 percent less fuel and generated less CO2 versus previous aircraft generations,” said Sternchuss. This sustainable aviation fuel journey was possible through the support of different companies that share their same sustainability values, such as the Aviation Center in Germany, Canada and the University of Manchester, he added.
Airbus also introduced the Fello’fly concept, which performs wake energy retrieval similar to migrating birds flying in the “V” patterns. “Airbus is fully engaged in driving the sector to carbon neutral aviation, leading the change through the aviation industry roadmap,” said Sternchuss.