Insufficient scaled-up production of low-carbon hydrogen could hamper efforts to develop fuel-cell aircraft engines as French aviation giant Airbus SE aims to achieve zero emissions in a sector that is typically hard to decarbonize, according to hydrogen industry consultant Alex Barnes.

"Aviation is a hard to decarbonize sector as it cannot easily electrify," Barnes told OPIS on Monday. "The challenge is that replacing fossil fuels is difficult as they are very energy dense and so are ideal for aviation where power to weight ratios are key ... There is very little production of green hydrogen globally so scaling up production will be [vital]."

Airbus is proposing a design in which fuel cells convert green hydrogen into electricity, which then powers a propeller, according to Airbus in a Nov. 30 news release.

At scale, and if technology targets are achieved, fuel cell engines may be able to power a 100-passenger aircraft with a range of approximately 1,000 nautical miles, according to Airbus. However, the infrastructure required to produce and distribute low-carbon emission hydrogen at scale has yet to be developed, according to Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury.

"This is a big concern and might derail our plans to introduce a hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035," said Faury.

The company hopes to use the hydrogen-powered fuel-cell engines in its zero-emission (ZEROe) aircraft series that it expects to be operational by 2035, with test flights scheduled from 2026 onward.

The concept will be tested on an Airbus A380 superjumbo, which will be adapted to carry the fuel-cell engine pod that is attached to the external parts of the rear fuselage where the horizontal and vertical tailplanes are joined. A cryogenic tank containing liquefied hydrogen will be installed inside the aircraft's rear fuselage, said Airbus.

"There are two alternatives where green hydrogen can play a role - synthetic aviation fuels which can directly replace fossil fuels, or hydrogen fuel cells. However, the former need to be based on sustainable carbon sources so that net emissions are zero, whilst the latter require different aircraft design," Barnes said.

Airbus has been exploring the possibilities of fuel cell propulsion systems for aviation since October 2020, when it signed a joint venture with international automotive supplier and fuel cell systems specialist ElringKlinger. A few months later, in December 2020, Airbus presented its first pod-concept with six removable fuel cell propeller propulsion systems.

The development of renewable and low-carbon emission hydrogen in northwest Europe is expected to gradually scale up in the short- to medium-term to reach a production capacity target of over 30 GigaWatts by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.

Most of the low-emission hydrogen projects are currently in the early stages of development, the IEA said.


--Reporting by Benita Dreesen,; Editing by Rob Sheridan,

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 05, 2022 14:01 ET (19:01 GMT)

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