A new hydrogen engine for the new Airbus passenger plane

The European aerospace consortium wants to put the first passenger plane with hydrogen engines and zero CO₂ emissions into service in 2035.

Airbus is betting everything on hydrogen and has just announced that it will begin developing the technology to have its first aircraft in service by 2035. A “zero emission aircraft” that will be equipped with new engines that will use hydrogen as fuel, not with hydrogen cells that produce electricity.

The European aerospace corporation has been exploring hydrogen as a substitute for fossil fuel for some time to create aircraft with zero CO2 emissions, what the company calls ZEROe. But that exploration — which resulted in a series of concepts announced in 2020, ranging from conventional aircraft to integrated fuselage aircraft similar to the American B-2 bombers — has not materialized into a program with a concrete commercial objective until now.

How does it work?

According to Airbus, the hydrogen plane it wants to produce will not use hydrogen cells or fuel cell technology, which produces electricity through a chemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen, creating pure water as the only waste.

Airbus says they will work with a company called CFM International — a fifty-fifty alliance between General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines — to modify “the burner, fuel system and control system of a GE Passport turboprop to run on hydrogen.” The European multinational says in its press release that the engine is being assembled in the United States and “was selected for this program due to its physical size, advanced turbo machinery, and fuel flow capability.”

One of Airbus’ ZEROe concepts

The announcement does not give further technical details so we cannot assess how they will achieve their zero emissions goals with these engines. From the description, it does not seem that they will completely avoid the emission of CO2 or other gases. To test the new engines, they will be mounted in the rear fuselage of an Airbus A380 that will act as a flight test bench. In these test flights, which will follow a “long period of ground testing,” they will measure the emissions of the new engines. An explanation about this will be revealed at the Dubai Airshow 2025.

Why hydrogen instead of batteries

Unlike electric cars and trucks, operating medium and long-distance aircraft with batteries is impossible given the low energy density of this technology. The weight of the batteries is too great to compensate for the energy they provide for the flight of the plane. Other companies want to launch fleets of small short-haul planes that will use batteries. United Airlines, for example, will use battery-powered aircraft from Sweden’s Heart Aerospace for short-haul flights with very few passengers using the ES-19 aircraft. The 19 is for the 19 passengers. The Swedish aeronautical company based in Göteborg assures that its range is 400 kilometers but will improve with the passage of time and new battery technologies.


The three hydrogen planes that Airbus is working on (Airbus)

According to United, this fleet could begin operating in 2026, an optimistic goal. But, for large short, medium, and long-distance transportation of passengers and goods, the use of current batteries is absolutely impossible and hydrogen is the only option, as Airbus points out. Let’s hope that their goal of having them up and running by 2035 is met.

Clean hydrogen

Clean hydrogen, including green hydrogen, is a cornerstone of the energy transition. This has the potential to eliminate the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, especially in sectors that are difficult to reduce and contribute to achieving net zero emissions.

We can produce environmentally friendly hydrogen by utilizing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. As low-income countries and vulnerable populations experience the worst impacts of climate change, investing in resources to create a poverty-free world and a livable planet becomes increasingly important.

Green hydrogen can play an important role in creating skilled jobs in local communities while contributing to cleaning the air and driving the energy transition through public and private investment.

Green hydrogen can play an important role in creating skilled jobs in local communities while contributing to cleaning the air and driving the energy transition through public and private investment.

With the falling price of renewable energy and advances in technology, it is a good time to implement this energy provider on an industrial scale. Infrastructure investments and policy support are needed to achieve this goal to encourage private sector involvement, especially in developing countries.

Developing countries with good renewable energy resources can produce environmentally friendly hydrogen locally, generating economic opportunities and reducing exposure to oil price volatility and supply disruptions.

In the end, Airbus is one of the drivers of the “dirty energy” to “clean energy” transition that will probably change the face of the world in the next few decades.

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