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Airbus’ zero-carbon plane concepts eschew batteries for hydrogen

Image credit: airbus

Airbus has demonstrated three zero-emission aircraft concepts which it says could enter service by 2035.

The aviation firm said that each takes a slightly different approach to achieving the low-carbon goal using different aerodynamic configurations.

All of the concepts rely on hydrogen as a primary power source, an option that Airbus believes holds promise as a clean aviation fuel. While battery-powered planes are under active development, the current maximum energy density is only enough to allow for very short-haul flights.

“This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen. The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO.

“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.” 

The three concepts include a turbofan design which is capable of carrying up to 200 passengers, has a range of over 2,000 nautical miles and is powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, through combustion. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.

Turbofan design concept

A turboprop design that can carry up to 100 passengers uses a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan and is also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines. It would supposedly be capable of traveling more than 1,000 nautical miles, making it a better option for short-haul trips.

Turboprop design concept

Lastly, Airbus showed off a “blended-wing body” design that can hold up to 200 passengers. The wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with 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 interior cabin layout, Airbus said.

Blended-wing body design

“These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035,” said Guillaume Faury.

“The transition to hydrogen as the primary power source for these concept planes will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem. 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.”

In order to tackle these challenges, airports will require significant hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations.

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