The hydrogen-powered planes could be carrying passengers distances of up to 2,000 nautical miles by 2035, Airbus claims
Airbus has offered a glimpse of a potential zero emissions future for flight, yesterday revealing concept designs for three hydrogen-powered aircraft which it claims could enter service within just 15 years.
All three concepts rely on hydrogen as a primary power source in some form, with the aerospace giant touting the fuel - which is also seen by many as a crucial means of decarbonising heavy shipping and road transport - as a climate-friendly solution for transforming the aviation sector.
The largest 'turbofan' model designed is capable of carrying up to 200 passengers with a range of 2,000 nautical miles, and would be powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen rather than jet fuel, the company said. It is envisaged the liquid hydrogen fuel would be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.
Also unveiled yesterday, a smaller propeller plane model has also been designed to use hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines, capable of carrying up to 100 passengers for trips of 1,000 nautical miles, Airbus said.
And finally, a third "blended-wing body" design offers a more radical departure from conventional aircraft, in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft, creating a wide fuselage offering multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, as well as cabin layout, the company explained. It said the model has been designed to hold similar passenger numbers and cover a similar distance to the turbofan concept.
"The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight," said Guillaume Faury, CEO at Airbus. "I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen - both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft - has the potential to significantly reduce aviation's climate impact."
It comes in the wake of a study earlier this summer which concluded that "hydrogen-powered planes have a significant, and so far underestimated" potential to play a key role in reducing the aviation sector's climate impact. Commissioned by two EU public-private partnerships, the study found that planes fuelled by direct hydrogen combustion have the potential to reduce in-flight greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 75 per cent compared to conventional planes, while hydrogen fuel cell technology - which uses H2 to produce electricity - could reduce emissions by as much as 75 to 90 per cent.
Global aviation emissions currently account for 3.5 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, but the sector's share of global emissions is expected to double by 2050 if the industry continues to grow at its projected rate, making slashing aviation emissions a major challenge in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.
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