Hydrogen Fuel-Cells pave the way for Zero Emission Commercial Flights

Airbus aims to put a hydrogen-powered commercial plane in the sky by 2035 with its ambitious ZEROe program

Source: Airbus

In its recent Fuel Cells and Hydrogen report, Clean Sky 2 (a joint undertaking of the EU and the European aviation industry) has stated that by 2035, hydrogen fuel-cells could power a commercial aircraft up to 3,000 kilometres. By 2040, Clean Sky 2 projects that hydrogen’s capacity could extend to longer flights of up to 7,000 kilometres. In comparison to current fuel prices, hydrogen-fuelled flights are expected to cost €18 extra per person on short flights but will reduce climate impact in the range of 50-90%.

Hydrogen fuel-cells have also proven to be more efficient than regular combustion engines. The U.S. Department of Energy found that efficiency rates of a standard combustion engine were around 25%, whereas hydrogen fuel-cells could reach up to 60%. They have longer lives than lead-acid batteries and refuelling takes just about two minutes.

Since aviation is a capital-intensive industry, the cost-effectiveness of hydrogen fuel-cells has attracted widespread attention. Boeing has been experimenting with hydrogen-powered aircraft since its first attempt in 2008. In September 2020, ZeroAvia (a hydrogen-electric engine manufacturer) recorded the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial flight.

Recently, Airbus announced that its ZEROe program aims to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035. Currently, ZEROe is developing three prototypes of this new aircraft, all hybrid-hydrogen. It is hoped that successful implementation of hydrogen in aviation will eliminate the need to maintain, charge and replace traditional batteries which will lower costs and environmental impact.

Airbus has partnered with ElringKlinger, a company with over 20 years of experience as both a fuel cell system and component supplier to explore the potential of hydrogen fuel-cells. Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP of Zero-Emission Aircraft said: “Today, Airbus has significant know-how in electric propulsion and fuel cells thanks to work carried out at our E-Aircraft System House and currently taking place at the ZAL in Hamburg. This partnership will be a phenomenal acceleration in bringing hydrogen fuel cells to future aircraft.”