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HIGH -DROGEN EXPECTATIONS

“We believe hydrogen is one of the most promising zero-emission technologies to reduce aviation’s climate impact,” says Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus’ Head of Zero Emissions. “This is why we consider hydrogen to be an important technology pathway to achieve our ambition of bringing a zero-emission commercial aircraft to market by 2035.

Hydrogen is a high-potential technology with a specific energy-per-unit mass that is three times higher than traditional jet fuel. If generated from renewable energy through electrolysis, it emits no CO2 emissions, thereby enabling renewable energy to potentially power large aircraft over long distances but without the undesirable by-product of CO2 emissions.

“Because hydrogen has a lower volumetric energy density, the visual appearance of future aircraft will likely change” says Glenn. “This is to better accommodate hydrogen storage solutions that will be bulkier than existing jet fuel storage tanks.”

Airbus is currently a member of the Hydrogen Council to benefit from the huge cross-industry experience on hydrogen.

Two primary uses for hydrogen in aviation
Hydrogen has been safely used in the aerospace and automobile industries for decades. The aviation industry’s challenge now – and that facing Airbus engineers based at Filton – is to take this zero-emission energy carrier and adapt it to commercial aviation’s needs.

Airbus sees two primary uses for hydrogen:
Hydrogen propulsion: Hydrogen can be combusted through modified gas-turbine engines or converted into electrical power that complements the gas turbine via fuel cells. The combination of both creates a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion chain powered entirely by hydrogen. Synthetic fuels: Hydrogen can be used to create e-fuels, which are generated exclusively through renewable energy. Hydrogen produced using renewable electricity is combined with carbon dioxide to form a carbon fuel with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“We expect to make the necessary decisions on the best combination of hydrogen technologies by 2025,” says Glenn.

A high-potential technology to meet aviation’s climate targets Renewable hydrogen is expected to be a solution for several industries to meet their climate targets. And Airbus believes the aviation industry should be no exception: it is estimated that hydrogen has the potential to reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions by up to 50%.

Airbus collaborates with a variety of industry players, including energy providers and airports, to ensure hydrogen can help them to take significant steps towards climate-neutral aviation.

Research into hydrogen as a potential energy carrier to power future zero-emission aircraft has been intensifying in recent years. But the road to hydrogen-powered aircraft requires significant effort inside the aviation industry and beyond. From hydrogen storage, cost and infrastructure to public perceptions about safety, the aviation sector is working to mature the technology while tackling some major challenges.

Hydrogen is increasingly considered as one of the most promising zero-emission technologies for future aircraft. However, despite the fact that hydrogen has an energy density-per-unit mass that is three times higher than traditional jet fuel, a variety of challenges must be addressed before widespread adoption can happen.

Glenn adds: “From the technical side, aeronautical engineers at Filton and across our research sites will need to take the technologies developed in the automotive and space industries and make the technology compatible with commercial aircraft operations, notably by bringing the weight and cost down.”

One specific challenge is how to store hydrogen on board the aircraft. Today, liquid hydrogen storage is among the most promising options, while storing hydrogen as compressed gas poses challenges with current aircraft weight and volume requirements.

In addition, the aviation industry will need to achieve the same or better safety targets than what has been achieved with existing commercial aircraft. Indeed, extensive safety precautions are currently taken into account in the design and operation of today’s kerosene powered aircraft. This stringent approach has ensured the industry’s consistent safety record throughout the years. Future hydrogen-propulsion systems will thus need to achieve equivalent or better safety levels before hydrogen-powered aircraft can take to the skies.

AIRBUS-FILTON’S FLYING FUTURE

Filton’s new Airbus Wing Integration Centre (AWIC) – a facility that will test and develop current and future aircraft wings – has recently marked another major milestone that has been five years in the making.

The Bristol teams recently completed the ‘wing-to-strong wall’ join-up in the facility. The strong wall, which weighs more than 200 tonnes, supports a full scale A321 aircraft wing for structural testing.

The test will recreate 200,000 simulated flight cycles over the next four years, during which the performance of the wing structure will be monitored.

“The purpose of the test – called the ‘A321 limit of validity’ test – is to demonstrate that the single-aisle family airframe has a higher capacity than its current lifespan of 60,000 flights – potentially it could be good for 100,000 flights,” explains Test Leader, Matt Hooper, who is based at Airbus Filton.

If testing is successful, the benefits will be far-reaching: “We will be able to show there is more residual value in the aircraft that operators are investing in,” adds Matt. “It means, potentially, we are able to keep more aircraft in service – adding value to the customers of our highly successful single-aisle family.”

Matt’s role involves bringing together teams from wing-stress engineering, wing production and the Wing Test Centre (IAC) to create the right environment for testing.

The A400M plant team at Filton were key in delivering this recent milestone. It involved the join-up between the test wing and the dummy centre box and subsequently the lift and fixing to the strong wall. The wing join-up involved 2,233 fasteners with tight tolerances to be maintained.

Other key stakeholders include the Broughton plant in North Wales, which built the wing for the test, and the Wing Engineering Centre (IAW), which defined the specifications for the wing. The Wing Test Centre in Filton has been responsible for developing the test concept, hydraulics, mechanical elements and control systems for testing.

“These enable us to get the appropriate loads into the test specimen – it’s going to run at 500 simulated flights a day, so it’s running high loads quite rapidly,” said Matt. “A very sophisticated system is required for us to do that safely – everything is done in a controlled manner and there are several fail safes in place to make sure everything is
done properly.”

“It’s a huge investment for Airbus, so we need to make sure we get the best value out of this test,” he added.

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