Airbus reveals zero-emission hydrogen plane concepts © Airbus/PA

Airbus reveals zero-emission hydrogen plane concepts

The European plane-maker claimed the hydrogen-fuelled aircraft could enter service by 2035.

Three concepts for the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft have been unveiled by Airbus. The European plane-maker claimed the hydrogen-fuelled aircraft could enter service by 2035.

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The ZEROe designs represent three different approaches to how technology and aerodynamics could lead to zero-emission commercial flights.

Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said: “This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen.

“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. 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.”

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Airbus claimed its turbofan design could carry up to 200 passengers more than 2,000 miles, while a turboprop concept would have a 50 per cent lower capacity and range.

The most distinctive design is named the “blended-wing body” plane, which has the wings merging with the main body of the aircraft.

All three planes would be powered by modified gas-turbine engines that burn liquid hydrogen as fuel, and hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power. This would create a “highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system”, according to Airbus.

The Airbus concept planes © Airbus/PA
The aircraft could enter service by 2035 © Airbus/PA

Major investment in refuelling infrastructure at airports would be required for commercial hydrogen-powered planes to be viable.

“These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035,” said Faury. “The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem.

“Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”

EasyJet and Airbus launched a joint research project last year to consider hybrid and electric aircraft as a way of reducing the environmental impact of aviation.

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The airline’s chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “EasyJet remains absolutely committed to more sustainable flying and we know that technology is where the answer lies for the industry.

“We are committed to collaborating on the development of these new technologies – as demonstrated by our partnership with Airbus – with the aim of being an early adopter when they come to market.

“It is testament to the innovation and drive of this industry that, despite the pandemic and the immense impact it has had on the industry, technological breakthroughs continue to come.

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“One thing is for certain: confidence in the power of disruptive technologies such as electric and hydrogen to reinvent aviation is gaining momentum.”

How many cars equal the CO2 emissions of one plane?

Asked by: Grant de Souza, by email

A Boeing 747 uses 7840kg of aviation fuel for the take-off, climb and descent portions of the flight and these account for about 250km. For journeys longer than that, the plane will use 10.1kg for each additional kilometre under typical cruising conditions. So to fly from Heathrow to Edinburgh (530km) uses 10,668kg of fuel, which releases a little over 33 tonnes of CO2.

Whereas a Ford Mondeo 1.8 TDCi emits 151g of CO2 per km and covers 650km to reach Edinburgh. That works out to be 98kg for a single passenger, compared to 79kg per person for the Jumbo, assuming it carries its full complement of 416 passengers. But you could drive 336 cars to Edinburgh for the same CO2 as one plane.

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