European planemaker Airbus SE unveiled three designs it’s studying to build hydrogen-powered aircraft as it races to bring a zero-carbon passenger plane into service by 2035.
The approaches include a turbofan jet with capacity for as many as 200 passengers — similar to its A321neo narrow-body — that can fly more than 2,000 nautical miles, according to a statement. It would be powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen.
The manufacturer also showed a design for a propeller plane which would seat about 100 passengers for smaller distances, and a flying-wing concept with 200 seats.
Hydrogen is becoming an increasing area of focus for Airbus as it evaluates technologies for emission-free flight. The company is under pressure from the French and German governments, its biggest shareholders, to speed development of new aircraft after aiding the planemaker during the coronavirus crisis.
Together, the two countries have committed some 2.5 billion euros ($2.9 billion) towards cleaner propulsion.
While there are different approaches, hydrogen is likely to be used in aerospace and other industries to meet climate-neutral targets, Airbus said. The company has already said it’s targeting the mid-2030s for the first zero-emission passenger jet. Developing a hydrogen aircraft on that timeline will be a real challenge because of the massive amounts of infrastructure and government investment required.
“The question is how big can we go with batteries,” said Glenn Llewellyn, vice president of zero-emissions technology at Airbus, in a briefing. “We don’t believe that it’s a today-relevant technology for commercial aircraft and we see hydrogen having more potential.”
Airbus said it plans to test the three designs over the next
In the turbofan design, liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed through tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead, while at the same time hydrogen fuel cells will create electric power that complements the gas turbine.