Airbus, as one of the leading aircraft manufacturers, is driving forward the development of a hydrogen aircraft at its European sites in France, Germany, the UK, and Spain. Hamburg, as
the world's third largest aviation site, offers many favorable conditions as a test field for the frame maker’s hydrogen project.
Nicole Dreyer-Langlet, Vice-President Research & Technology Germany at Airbus Operations GmbH, reports on the development status of the project, Airbus' next steps, and the advantages of the local hydrogen ecosystem for the aircraft manufacturer. She did this as part of an interview with Hamburg Marketing GmbH. With their permission, we are publishing essential passages of the conversation here.
These are Ms. Dreyer-Langlet’s views on...
... Airbus' role as a pioneer of green aviation and the path to decarbonizing flying
At Airbus, we have set ourselves the vision of being a pioneer in developing sustainable aviation. The overarching goal is to achieve net zero CO2 by 2050. There is not one silver bullet but various measures, each of which is important and must be developed in parallel with the others. This means that we cannot proceed sequentially. Rather, every single measure, no matter how small, is important, as they sometimes have very different associated timelines. We distinguish between two areas which, of course, interact with each other.
To reduce CO2 emissions, one of the fastest and easiest ways is to take old aircraft out of the current fleets and replace them with our latest generation aircraft. Of the 40,000 new aircraft expected by 2040, about 40% are attributable to fleet renewals. The latest generation that we produce today emits 20% to 25% less CO2 than older jetliner generations. This means that every aircraft that replaces an older model, substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Next to this, there are possibilities such as use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), flight path optimization, and other efficiency measures that we are developing and offering to airlines.
... the Zero Emissions Aircraft project
Secondly, in addition to fleet modernization, disruptive, innovative technologies are making an important contribution to the decarbonization of aviation. The best known of these is our ZeroE project. We want to bring the first hydrogen powered aircraft into commercial service by 2035. We are talking about liquid hydrogen, which could either be burned in an engine or used in a fuel cell. However, this still needs a lot of research because off-the-shelf solutions do not yet exist.
... challenges in developing technology building blocks
We presented various concept aircraft to the public. The best known is certainly the Blended Wing. In order to meet the 2035 target, we are currently concentrating primarily on so-called technology building blocks, such as engines, the fuel cell, and the tank. The latter, in particular, is very challenging because liquid hydrogen has to be stored at minus 253° centigrade and has a very different thermal energy density compared to kerosene.
Hydrogen is only one-third as heavy as kerosene, which is positive because everything in aviation is about weight. On the other hand, hydrogen has four times the volume of jet A-1 fuel. Therefore, tanks and storage solutions need to be much bigger than they are today. There are currently several considerations on storing H2. The most likely solution is to use the rear fuselage section of an aircraft. We need to further investigate this. After all, changing that part of an aircraft will affect its overall fuselage structure. By approximately 2028, we will have decided on what the final aircraft itself will look like and are then planning to kick off the pre-program phase in combination with test flights. In the years that follow, we will focus on certification and reaching production readiness, so that we can put our first hydrogen aircraft into service by 2035.
... why Airbus relies on Hamburg for its H2 scheme
Hamburg is a very innovative location and offers us many core advantages in terms of hydrogen and the hydrogen circular economy. Locally, there is a wonderful H2 initiative, illustrating on a small scale the advantages that Hamburg offers in this field. It is part of the Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI), initiated by the EU. Participants include hydrogen producers as well as distributors such as Vattenfall and Gasnetz Hamburg. Airbus is involved as a user, as are the local Seaport and Hamburg Airport, which is also active in building a hydrogen infrastructure. The latter has already gained capabilities and experience in the field of hydrogen in the past. Working together, we are now defining a holistic hydrogen ecosystem, including the infrastructure.
Thanks to the local H2 alliance, common goals are defined and waiting for their implementation upon the green light from the EU commission. It is remarkable and very helpful that all these projects are very strongly supported by the city of Hamburg. We, as a team, are in a front runner position when it comes to developing and implementing a hydrogen ecosystem, needed here but also on a global scale. We feel like a small lighthouse in a pioneering role, which also fits well with Hamburg's maritime history.
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Interview compiled by Heiner Siegmund
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