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Hydrogen aircraft, the future of sustainable aviation?

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By 2050, business aviation, and aviation in general, will aim to be carbon neutral. In this sustainable aviation approach, many solutions are underway such as the use of biofuels called SAF, or electric aircraft models such as the Volocopter, the Alice electric aircraft or the CityAirBus. However, many aircraft manufacturers are working on another alternative, namely hydrogen-powered aircraft. AEROAFFAIRES presents this alternative solution for zero emission aviation.


What is hydrogen?

Decarbonizing the aviation sector is the goal of aircraft manufacturers between now and 2050. Hydrogen is a long-term solution that is currently being studied. But what is hydrogen? What are its advantages?

Hydrogen is one of the two elements that form water. It is also the lightest element on Earth (part of the periodic table). It is present in water bodies, lakes, oceans, and even in the atmosphere.

How does it work? Hydrogen is burned in the engine’s gas turbines in combustion chambers. Then, thanks to a fuel cell, the energy released is transformed into electrical energy which then powers the engine.

Within the aircraft, hydrogen can be stored in gaseous or liquid form at -235 degrees. As it has a low density compared to current kerosene, the aircraft structures can be modified in the future. Finally, hydrogen does not pollute because the emissions released are only water vapor, so it is an opportunity to seize to reach zero emissions by 2050.


The different projects of aircraft and private jets using hydrogen


Many professionals in the aeronautical world are looking into this alternative to the use of kerosene. Having sustainable aviation in mind is necessary and various projects are being developed. Recently, for example, GE Aviation and Safran joined forces with Airbus to test a hydrogen-powered engine. And Beyond Aerospace, an aeronautics company from Toulouse founded in 2020, is planning to create a hydrogen-powered private jet after recently raising funds.

AEROAFFAIRES presents other hydrogen projects in the aeronautics sector.


Airbus and its ZEROe aircraft program

Airbus is currently working with several engine manufacturers to equip its aircraft. These include Pratt & Whitney, CFM International, Safran and General Electric. Airbus is gradually unveiling its hydrogen aircraft projects. In particular with its 3 different concepts called ZEROe, for zero emissions. By 2035, the aircraft manufacturer wants to put in flight aircraft powered entirely by hydrogen and therefore neutral in CO2 emissions.

Airbus is currently testing an A380. By 2025, the aircraft manufacturer is setting up a device to power one of the plane’s four engines with hydrogen. For the moment, the A380 on the test bed is equipped with a 5th engine that runs on hydrogen. 4 tanks totaling 400 kg of hydrogen are arranged near and at the back of the plane in order to supply liquid hydrogen to the engine submitted to the tests. According to the aircraft manufacturer, the project will “define the specifications of the hydrogen propulsion system, supervise the flight tests and provide the A380 with a test bench that will allow the hydrogen engine to be tested in cruise phase”. The four other engines located under the wings will still operate normally during the hydrogen engine test phases.


A320neo ProjetZEROe
Crédit Photo : Airbus


Pratt & Whitney and its hydrogen engine

It’s not so recent that the American engine manufacturer is looking at hydrogen. Indeed, the company had already mentioned the possibility of creating aircraft powered by hydrogen as early as 1957. The American company was one of the first to exploit this sector and test the possibilities offered by hydrogen.
Today, Pratt & Whitney says it is working on a new hydrogen engine that will eventually power aircraft and private jets. The aerospace company is already working hand in hand with aircraft manufacturers, including Airbus. Airbus supplies about 35% of the engines for the Airbus A320 Neo and all of the engines for the company’s A220 model. Pratt & Whitney’s idea is to build an engine capable of using liquid hydrogen to replace the kerosene originally used. In addition, to go further, it also plans to recover the water vapor produced by the hydrogen during its combustion process. The future of “Zero Emission” is on the way!


Partnerships to equip airports with hydrogen

Aeronautical giants are already joining forces to offer hydrogen installation in airports. This is the case with Air Liquide, Airbus and Vinci Airports who are joining forces to evolve in this transition to sustainable aviation. They are announcing a ten-year plan to help airports and structures to be supplied with hydrogen. The first pilot airport to benefit is Lyon-Saint Exupéry. It will receive hydrogen gas distribution points in 2023. Initially, the hydrogen will be used to power ground equipment such as runway vehicles or handling machines, for example. Then, until 2030, these distribution points will be used to supply aircraft with liquid hydrogen.


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