A380 Flight Test Platform For The Zero Demonstrator

Airbus starts testing hydrogen plane propulsion for low-carbon aviation

Image credit: Airbus

Airbus has announced it is developing a hydrogen plane demonstrator that will hopefully take flight around the middle of this decade alongside engine maker CFM International.

The programme’s objective is to ground and flight test a direct combustion engine fuelled by hydrogen, in preparation for entry-into-service of a zero-emission aircraft by 2035.

The demonstration will use an A380 flying testbed equipped with liquid hydrogen tanks prepared at Airbus facilities in France and Germany.

Airbus will also define the hydrogen propulsion system requirements, oversee flight testing, and provide the A380 platform to test the hydrogen combustion engine in cruise phase.

Hydrogen planes have so far proven difficult to bring to market due to the complexities of the engine needed as well as storing such volatile fuel on an aircraft within a tanker that is not too heavy to prevent the plane from becoming airborne.

Using hydrogen for aviation is also only climate friendly if 'green hydrogen' is used which is created by splitting water by electrolysis in a process powered by renewable energy.

'Blue hydrogen', which is currently much more readily available, is produced by splitting natural gas, which has been found to be more carbon-intensive than natural gas, coal, or diesel, as a source of heat.

CFM plans to modify the combustor, fuel system and control system of a GE Passport turbofan to run on hydrogen. The engine, which is assembled in the US, was selected for this program because of its physical size, advanced turbo machinery, and fuel flow capability.

It will be mounted along the rear fuselage of the flying testbed to allow engine emissions, including contrails, to be monitored separately from those of the engines powering the aircraft. CFM will then execute an extensive ground test program ahead of the A380 flight test.

“This is the most significant step undertaken at Airbus to usher in a new era of hydrogen-powered flight since the unveiling of our ZEROe concepts back in September 2020,” said Sabine Klauke, Airbus chief technical officer.

“By leveraging the expertise of American and European engine manufacturers to make progress on hydrogen combustion technology, this international partnership sends a clear message that our industry is committed to making zero-emission flight a reality.”

Gaël Méheust, CEO of CFM, said: “Bringing together the collective capabilities and experience of CFM, our parent companies and Airbus, we really do have the dream team in place to successfully demonstrate a hydrogen propulsion system.”

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