Image credits: Airbus
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News Article

Airbus Unveils Hydrogen Powered Airplanes

By Alicia Arizpe | Tue, 09/22/2020 - 12:41

As part of its mission to reducing airplane emissions, French giant Airbus has unveiled three new concept aircraft that will be powered by hydrogen, which are expected to reduce emissions by 50 percent. The new ZEROe concept aircraft are one step in the company’s mission to produce a zero-emission aircraft by 2035.

Hydrogen can be used to power up a vehicle through an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell. Airbus’ three concept aircraft will use both in a hybrid-electric propulsion system. The aircraft will be powered by burning hydrogen in modified gas-turbine engines, while hydrogen fuel cells will generate electric power. However, the exact configuration of the aircraft varies by plane. Airbus’ concept turbofan incorporates two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines and the turboprop incorporates two hybrid hydrogen turboprop engines with six-bladed propellers to provide thrust. These two aircraft will store liquid hydrogen behind the rear pressure bulkhead. Finally, Airbus’ blended-wing model will also incorporate two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines. Their wide interior offers multiple options to store and distribute the liquid hydrogen. The turboprop will have a capacity of less than 100 passengers and a range of over 1,000 nautical miles, while turbofan and the bended-wing model will carry less than 200 passengers for a range of 2,000 nautical miles. In comparison, an Airbus A321 powered by two regular turbofan aircraft engines has a range of almost 4,000 nautical miles.

Hydrogen has been used as a propulsion fuel for decades in many different transportation models, including bicycles, boats, trains, cars, buses, submarines, airplanes and rockets. Now, a few vehicles, including the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo, are powered by hydrogen fuel cells. While at this point there are no commercial aircraft powered by hydrogen, numerous companies are investing in studying and developing the necessary technology. Boeing flew a single seat aircraft in 2008, Alaka'i Technologies introduced an urban air mobility vehicle for five passengers in 2019 and in June this year ZeroAvia performed a successful test flight for its 10-20 person aircraft, all of these were powered by hydrogen fuel cells. However, with its 100-200 passenger aircraft, Airbus aims to develop the world’s first commercial hydrogen powered airplane.

In order to adhere to its target of developing a zero-emission aircraft by 2035, Airbus plans to launch the ZEROe program in 2025 and introduce a prototype in late 2020s.

Photo by:   Airbus
Alicia Arizpe Alicia Arizpe Senior Writer