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Airbus’ ZEROe Sets Course for Hydrogen-Powered Future

Airbus is making significant progress in its efforts to select a propulsion system for its ZEROe hydrogen aircraft. Mathias Andriamisaina, the head of ZEROe demonstrators and testing, recently provided insights into the decision-making process and the timeline for this groundbreaking project.


Airbus is currently considering two primary options for the propulsion system of the ZEROe aircraft. The first option involves burning hydrogen in a turbine engine, which offers the advantage of being lighter in weight. The second option is to use hydrogen in a fuel cell to produce electricity, which prioritizes efficiency. To make a final decision, Airbus will need validations in a laboratory corresponding to a technology readiness level (TRL) of 3 or 4. Once the TRL reaches the usual level of 6, which involves validation in a relevant environment, the program is expected to launch in 2028-29. Airbus aims to have a hydrogen aircraft in service by 2035.


Until 2026-27, Airbus will focus on maturing technologies, studying aircraft configurations, conducting flight demonstrations, and fostering the emergence of a hydrogen ecosystem. In two-to-three years, a broader decision, referred to as product selection, will be made. Airbus is targeting a capacity of 200 seats and a range of 2,000 nm, with minimums of 100 seats and 1,000 nm. The exact numbers will depend on the progress of the technology.


Airbus is currently studying two options for turbine engines. A turboprop engine would support the smaller capacity and range, while a turbofan engine would be suitable for the higher capacity and range. In both cases, a degree of hybridization would be introduced to optimize performance.


To reach the required TRL of 3 or 4, Airbus is conducting large-scale demonstrations. One such demonstration involves the "iron pod," which consists of a 1.2 MW fuel cell and an associated electric motor. Demonstrations are also needed for hydrogen combustion, particularly with pumps. Flight testing of a hydrogen-burning turbofan and a fuel cell with an accompanying motor will be conducted using an adapted A380 as a testbed. The hydrogen system will include tanks with a capacity for 400 kg (882 lbs.) of liquid hydrogen. These flight trials are scheduled to begin in late 2026 and continue until an unspecified point in 2028.


Airbus recognizes the importance of considering the ecosystem before making a program launch decision. The company has introduced the concept of ecosystem readiness level, which is a counterpart to the TRL. Airbus does not require 2,000 hydrogen-equipped airports; approximately a hundred would be sufficient. Evaluating the ecosystem's readiness will be a crucial factor in determining the feasibility and success of the ZEROe hydrogen aircraft.


Airbus is diligently working towards selecting the most suitable propulsion system for its ZEROe hydrogen aircraft. The company is conducting extensive technology demonstrations, flight testing, and ecosystem evaluations to ensure a successful program launch in the coming years. The ZEROe aircraft represents a significant step towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly aviation industry.



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