By the middle of the decade, Airbus aims to test a hydrogen-powered engine on a modified A380, in the hopes of bringing lower-emission fuels to commercial air travel.
The European aircraft giant announced Tuesday that it is working on a test plane with engine maker CFM International — a joint venture between General Electric’s aviation division and France’s Safran — that will include a modified version of an existing engine that will have to handle higher temperatures at which hydrogen burns. According to Airbus, test flights might begin as early as 2026.
Aircraft manufacturers and airlines are frantically attempting to reduce their carbon emissions, which account for more than 2% of global emissions. Airbus has been aggressive in its pursuit of hydrogen, announcing that it is working on a hydrogen-powered passenger aircraft that it hopes to begin service in 2035.
Boeing, a competitor, has concentrated on more environmentally friendly aircraft fuels, which account for less than 1% of total jet fuel supply and are more expensive than traditional jet fuel. At an investor meeting last June, CEO Dave Calhoun stated that a hydrogen-powered plane on “the scale of aeroplanes that we’re referring to” would not be available before 2050.
He said, “It will work for some very small packages.”
According to Richard Aboulafia, managing director of Aerodynamic Advisory, an aviation consulting organisation, storing hydrogen fuel would require additional equipment that would add weight to the aircraft, restricting the number of people or cargo that a plane could carry.
He explained, “Hydrogen is what happens when engineers and economists don’t talk to each other.”
The A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, was chosen because it had enough space to house the liquid hydrogen tanks and other equipment, according to Airbus.