Airbus establishes UK facility to focus on aircraft hydrogen technology

A model of one of Airbus’ ZEROe concept planes, pictured in November 2021. The airline says it wants to develop a “zero-emissions commercial aircraft” by 2035.

Giuseppe Cacace | Afp | beautiful pictures

Airbus is opening a UK-based facility focused on hydrogen technologies, a move that represents the company’s latest effort to support the design of its next generation of aircraft.

In a statement on Wednesday, Airbus said the Zero Emissions Development Center in Filton, Bristol, has begun work on developing the technology.

One of the website’s main goals will revolve around researching what Airbus calls a “cost-competitive cryogenic fuel system” that its ZEROe planes will need.

Details of three zero-emissions “hybrid-hydrogen” concept planes under the moniker ZEROe have been announced back in September 2020. Airbus says it wants to develop a “zero-emissions commercial aircraft” by 2035.

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ZEDC in the UK will join other similar locations in Spain, Germany and France. “All Airbus ZEDC aircraft are expected to be fully operational and ready for ground testing with the first fully functional cryogenic hydrogen tanks in 2023 and with test flight commencing in 2026,” the company said.

The aviation industry’s environmental footprint is critical, with the World Wildlife Fund describing it as “one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions leading to global climate change.” WWF also says air travel is “currently the most carbon-intensive activity an individual can undertake.”

Just this week, Environmental groups launch legal action against KLMsays the Dutch aviation giant has misled the public about the sustainability of flying.

KLM was notified of the lawsuit on the same day as the company’s annual general meeting. A spokesman confirmed the group had received the letter and said they would study its contents.

Hope for hydrogen

In an interview with CNBC earlier this yearAirbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said aviation would “potentially face significant obstacles if we don’t manage to decarbonise at the right pace.”

Faury, who is speaking to CNBC’s Rosanna Lockwood, presented some of the areas his company is focusing on. These include making sure the plane burns less fuel and emits less carbon dioxide.

In addition, the aircraft the company is supplying is now certified to hold 50% of sustainable aviation fuel in their tanks.

“We need to see the SAF industry move forward, grow, grow to serve the airlines and be able to use 50% of that capacity of SAF,” he said. “We’ll be at 100% by the end of the decade.”

The above represent a “very important part of what we’re doing,” explains Faury. “The next one is looking at the medium and long-term future to bring hydrogen planes to market because this is really the last resort,” he said, noting that it would take a lot of technical commitment, research and capital. .

Described by the International Energy Agency as a “universal energy carrier”, hydrogen has a wide range of applications and can be deployed in many industries.

It can be produced in a number of ways. One method involves using electrolysis, with an electric current splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used in this process comes from a renewable source such as wind or the sun then some call it green hydrogen or renewable hydrogen. Much of the current hydrogen generation process is based on fossil fuels.

Airbus is not the only company considering the use of hydrogen in the aviation industry. Last October, plans to operate hydrogen-electric commercial flights between London and Rotterdam were announced, with the people behind the project hoping it will be in the skies by 2024.

At the time, ZeroAvia airline said it was developing a 19-seat “all-hydrogen” plane. In September 2020, a company’s six-seat hydrogen fuel cell aircraft completed its maiden flight.

—Sam Meredith of CNBC contributed to this report

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