Airbus, the world’s largest airliner manufacturer, has revealed plans for the first zero-emission commercial aircraft.
“To bring this vision to reality, Airbus is exploring game-changing concept aircraft – known as ZEROe – powered by hydrogen, a disruptive zero-emission technology with the potential to reduce aircraft emissions by up to 50%,” Airbus said in a media release.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury called it a “historic moment” for the commercial aviation sector.
The use of hydrogen had “the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact“, he added.
The multinational company, registered in the Netherlands, showed three concept aircrafts.
“At first glance, the three recently unveiled Airbus concept aircraft offer little more than a sense of déja vu. One looks remarkably similar to a classic commercial aircraft – except with longer, more flexible wings. One resembles a turboprop-powered airliner with its arrangement of six-bladed propellers. And the third is a blended-wing body, a revolutionary design that has seen some traction among engineers over the last year,” said Airbus, a component of the Euro Stoxx 50 index.
“But upon closer inspection, the trio features one game-changing difference compared to predecessors: hydrogen propulsion.”
Hydrogen-powered airships were common in the early 20th century until the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 in Manchester Township, New Jersey, US. Some 35 people were killed and dozens more severely burned when the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg burst into flames as it tried to dock.
“As recently as five years ago, hydrogen propulsion wasn’t even on our radar as a viable emission-reduction technology pathway,” said Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP, Zero-Emission Aircraft. “But convincing data from other transport industries quickly changed all that. Today, we’re excited by the incredible potential hydrogen offers aviation in terms of disruptive emissions reduction.”
The aeroplane and helicopter manufacturer said its ambition is to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035.
“This means only the most disruptive zero-emission technology to reduce the aviation industry’s climate impact will need to be rigorously tested and evaluated. And hydrogen certainly stands out from the pack: according to internal calculations, Airbus estimates hydrogen has the potential to reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions by up to 50%,” said the company, which has its headquarters and main production facility in Toulouse, France.
To meet this ambitious 2035 target, Airbus will need to launch the ZEROe aircraft programme by 2025. This time frame gives Airbus engineers approximately five years to mature all the required hydrogen technologies. Over the coming months, several hydrogen demonstrator programmes, which will test hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen combustion technologies respectively, are estimated to be formally launched. A full-scale aircraft prototype is estimated to arrive by the late 2020s.
“The ZEROe will be the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft,” says Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus EVP Engineering. “As an engineer, I can’t think of working on anything more exciting than that.”
Faury said the entire aviation industry would have to contribute financially to the development of hydrogen power.
“The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem,” he said.
“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.”