Airbus sees hydrogen as the pathway toward its goal of bringing a zero-emissions commercial airliner to market in the next decade, a key executive said.
But that executive, Glenn Llewellyn, v-p of zero-emissions technology for Airbus, agreed with other panelists during an FIA Connect 2020 webinar titled “Clean Flight – Path to Zero Emissions Aircraft” that hydrogen ranks among multiple approaches that will be necessary to reach their ultimate sustainability goals.
“We’ve been very clear recently that we have the ambition to bring a zero-emissions commercial airliner to market in the early 2030s, and one of the most promising technologies to allow us to do that is hydrogen,” Llewellyn said. “We believe we need to position the aviation industry to be powered by renewable energy, and hydrogen is a very good surrogate for allowing us to do that.”
Hydrogen can be produced by solar or wind, he said, adding that energy can be carried onboard through fuel cells to drive gas turbines or a hybrid-electric combination of the two. That would enable a significant reduction in aviation’s effect on climate change, Llewellyn said.
“We are talking about making some significant decisions in the 2024 to 2025 timeframes in terms of the technology choices we need to make,” he said, adding that the technology development needs to progress fairly quickly over the next four to five years.
Such progress will entail reaching beyond “aircraft borders” to the automotive and space sectors, both of which have experience with hydrogen energy use, he said. In addition, Airbus believes the airport community must also prepare for hydrogen-powered aircraft in the 2030s. This means bringing hydrogen on the airport to power ground vehicles leading up to that point, he said. “That’s going to require work already starting today,” not just for aircraft but preparing the roadmap. Airbus already has begun the initial work, as well as reaching out to energy companies to scale for hydrogen usage. “That infrastructure piece is as important as the aircraft development piece,” noted Llewellyn.