Airbus has unveiled three different concepts for zero-emission airplanes to be powered by hydrogen. Each of them represents a different way to achieving zero-emission flight, but all relying on hydrogen as a primary power source.
The Three Concepts
The first two concepts are both a conventional-looking aircraft. The first concept, a turbofan design that can carry between 120 and 200 passengers over 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km). The second concept, a turboprop design that would carry up to 100 passengers for 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 km). Unlike normal planes, it will be using a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen.
The third one incorporates a “blended wing body” design. It has an exceptionally wide body that blends into the plane’s wings to open up multiple options for hydrogen storage and the cabin layout.
Use of Hydrogen to Reduce Climate Impact
Guillaume Faury, the Airbus CEO, said the “historic moment for the commercial aviation sector” marks 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,” he said.
Faury also believes that the use of hydrogen can significantly reduce the impact of aviation on the climate. These include hydrogen use in synthetic fuels and as the main source of power for commercial aircraft.
According to Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus EVP Engineering, hydrogen has a different volumetric energy density than jet fuel. Therefore, they would have to find ways to safely store volatile liquid hydrogen during flight at very cold temperatures.
Grazia Vittadini, the Airbus Chief Technology Officer, said the development plan would yield its initial results by the middle of the year 2021, and a final concept would be selected by 2025. It does not rule out exploring the possibility of producing electric aircraft in the future, but it could happen on a smaller scale and using different models.
Vittadini said that the safety of the hydrogen distribution systems will be the top priority for Airbus. Also, she emphasized the need to reduce the cost of “green hydrogen” to help the aviation industry achieves the smallest carbon footprint possible.
Hydrogen is often made by using electrolyzers powered by renewable electricity or nuclear energy. The machine splits water into hydrogen and oxygen particles. However, we can also produce hydrogen from fossil fuel gas during a process that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It means that it would not be a clean energy source without using carbon capture technology during the process.
Airbus said that hydrogen-powered aircrafts would require airports to install hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure. It also requires government support to upgrade aircraft fleets to allow airlines to retire their older, less environmentally friendly aircraft.
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