Airbus pursues new technology for 100% hydrogen-powered airliner

Airbus pursues new technology for 100% hydrogen-powered airliner
Diagram of the hydrogen-powered aircraft
Diagram of the hydrogen-powered aircraft
View 2 Images
HyPower infographic
HyPower infographic
Diagram of the hydrogen-powered aircraft
Diagram of the hydrogen-powered aircraft

Airbus is looking towards a greener aviation future, revealing major projects to build hydrogen jet airliners with not only a complete hydrogen-fueled propulsion system, but also a hydrogen Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to generate electricity onboard.

There's often talk about a new hydrogen economy, but there's much more to this than simply swapping out fossil fuels for hydrogen. The two are very different things and require much more than just an engine that's been modified to burn hydrogen. It requires complete systems and engineering at a very basic level.

Working with ArianeGroup, an Airbus–Safran joint venture, Airbus has completed testing a complete system for feeding hydrogen to an aeronautical gas turbine engine. The HyPERION project, named after a French acronym for hydrogen for environmentally responsible aviation propulsion, began in December 2020 and is aimed at producing practical hydrogen commercial airliners by 2035. Its purpose is to both test technologies to make sure they work with a high degree of security and to identify areas where more work is needed.

In this case, the idea is to combine Airbus's expertise in aircraft construction with ArianeGroup's liquid hydrogen systems developed for the Ariane family of space rockets. In the new system, the hydrogen is stored as a supercooled liquid in cryogenic tanks. This is dispensed into the fuel system, which preheats the liquid, turning it back into gas that is delivered to the engines at the optimal temperature and pressure.

ArianeGroup's Vernon test facility carried out tests with the French aerospace lab ONERA, looking at compatible metals and the hydrogen conditioning system in a proof-of-concept test on May 12, 2023 that used an electric pump, gas generator, and heat exchangers originally developed for the Ariane rockets.

HyPower infographic
HyPower infographic

In another project, Airbus UpNext is working on a demonstrator program to replace the 'hidden' engine on an airliner.

If you ask most people how many engines there are on a passenger aircraft, they'll probably count the ones hanging off the wings, but there's one more jet engine tucked away in the tail of the plane. This is the APU, which is a jet turbine engine that is hooked to a generator to supply the aircraft onboard lighting, galley, and cockpit avionics with electricity and also pressurizes the cabin while supplying heating and cooling.

What Airbus wants to do is to build a technology demonstrator called HyPower by 2025 that will replace the APU on an Airbus A330 with a hydrogen fuel cell that will reduce the emissions and noise levels of a conventional unit.

"These tests will mark a new step in our decarbonization journey and ZEROe program through an ambitious flight demonstration that will take to the air by end 2025," said Michael Augello, CEO of Airbus UpNext. "We want to demonstrate the operability and integration of the system, including refueling the aircraft with hydrogen. We will demonstrate this system in realistic conditions, climbing to 25,000 ft (7,620 m) and flying for one hour with 10 kg (22 lb) of gaseous hydrogen on board. However, we cannot do this alone and our cooperation with the Spanish Government and external partners will be key enablers of these series of tests."

Source: Airbus

This would be nice, because APUs commonly run on the ground before jet engine start and after shutdown, when a lot of their fumes will be hanging around the terminal area. Combine this with electric tractors to pull aircraft away from the the gate.
Until there's a suitable supply of actual green hydrogen, I don't see the point. It might be "greener" and more economical to use a conventional (maybe bio) liquid fuel and use whatever power intended for producing cryo hydrogen to instead offset the CO2 released. This could be by carbon capture, converting CO2 to fuel, producing low-carbon products that outcompete high-carbon ones, or one of the many other possibilities. Using hydrogen doesn't magically solve global warming; it's just an energy storage medium, competing with many others.
Ornery Johnson
It's a step. More important is how was how much CO2 (if any) was produced while producing and compressing the hydrogen? "Green" electrolysis, or dirty methane reforming?
This solves nothing. H2 is NOT a fuel, at best it is an energy storage system. H2 does not exist in a free form, it must be derived from water or some other Hydrogen-containing substance, and it requires (a lot of) electrical power to do so.

In addition, burning H2 with air (as opposed to O2) produces a very hot flame... hot enough that the N2 in the atmosphere will combine with both the H2 AND the O2, producing oxides of nitrogen, and when combined with the H2O in the exhaust, will produce acids of nitrogen- not good.
Didn't we learn this lesson already? May 6, 1937 maybe? Anyone? Lakehurst, NJ?
Incredible. So happy Airbus is doing this. They've been at the forefront for a few years now with the grand dream of a blended wing with overhead propfan airliner. Sign me up! And Safran seems like they are hitting all the right notes lately. For those deriding you have a better idea to get to net zero? Please do tell.
If it doesn’t already make sense to use hydrogen, the lightest fuel, in light carbon fibre, or aluminium lithium aircraft, a combination of lighter aircraft and fuel. It soon will make sense, but with solar power, halving in price, per kWh, in the last decade, every 3 years, last year, it halved in price, per kilowatt hour, the amount of availability, doubled, to a Terawatt,

Things are moving faster and faster, 35% of the sales of cars in China were electric vehicles, half of the buses purchased in China, last year, were electric vehicles, now there are aviation grade batteries, for domestic and regional purposes.
Airbus was supposed to be working on fuel cell powered ducted fans,powered by cryogenic H2. I hope they are still researching that.