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Airbus developing hydrogen-powered zero emission engine

Hydrogen is one of the most promising alternatives to power a zero-emission aircraft


European aerospace major Airbus on Wednesday said it is developing a hydrogen-powered fuel cell engine for its zero-emission aircraft that will enter service by 2035.

The company will start ground and flight testing this fuel cell engine architecture onboard its ZEROe demonstrator aircraft towards the middle of the decade.

The A380 MSN001 flight test aircraft is currently being modified to carry liquid hydrogen tanks and associated equipment.

"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," Glenn Llewellyn, VP Zero-Emission Aircraft at Airbus, said.

He was speaking at the Airbus Summit 2022 here.

"At scale, and if the technology targets were achieved, fuel cell engines may be able to power a one hundred passenger aircraft with a range of approximately 1,000 nautical miles," Llewellyn said.

Hydrogen is one of the most promising alternatives to power a zero-emission aircraft as it emits no carbon dioxide when generated from renewable energy, with water being its most significant by-product.

Hydrogen fuel cells, when stacked together, increase their power output, allowing scalability. In addition, an engine powered by hydrogen fuel cells produces zero NOx emissions, offering additional decarbonisation benefits.

The A380 was chosen as the 'host' for the hydrogen fuel-cell engine demonstrator as the aircraft has plenty of space internally.

"... there are no constraints in terms of accommodating everything we need, as well as the ability to test multiple configurations," Mathias Andriamisaina, Head of ZEROe Demonstrators and Tests at Airbus, said.

"In terms of aerodynamics, the A380 is a very stable aircraft... with the A380, we also have an aircraft that's already fully instrumented. The Flight-Test-Instrumentation (FTI) is a big part of the project and can be a big driver in terms of cost and planning. So MSN001 was the perfect fit for us," he added.

Fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical reaction, rather than via combustion. They also differ from batteries since they require a continuous source of fuel and oxygen (usually from air), whereas in a battery the chemical energy comes from substances which are already present inside. Therefore, fuel cells can produce electricity continuously for as long as fuel and oxygen are supplied. PTI ABM

(This correspondent is in Toulouse at the invitation of Airbus)