Airbus unveils ‘game changing’ ZEROe hydrogen hybrid planes
Airbus has billed its trio of hydrogen propulsion concept aircraft as aviation ‘game changers’ as the European manufacturer strives to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035.
The three ZEROe designs – a classic commercial aircraft with longer more flexible wings, a turboprop with six-bladed propellers and revolutionary blended wing body – would be powered by modified gas-turbine engines that burn liquid hydrogen as fuel.
They also use hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system. Each option has a slightly different approach to integrating the liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system.
“As recently as five years ago, hydrogen propulsion wasn’t even on our radar as a viable emission-reduction technology pathway,” explains Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP, Zero-Emission Aircraft. “But convincing data from other transport industries quickly changed all that. Today, we’re excited by the incredible potential hydrogen offers aviation in terms of disruptive emissions reduction.”
Potential to reduce aviation emissions
Airbus estimates hydrogen has the potential to reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions by up to 50%. Details for the three planes are as follows:
- In the classic turbofan prototype, two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust. The liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system is located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.
- Similar to the turbofan aircraft, a liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system is located behind the rear pressure bulkhead in the turboprop concept. However, two hybrid hydrogen engines, which drive the six-bladed propellers, provide thrust.
- The eye-catching blended wing body features an exceptionally wide interior, thereby opening up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution. In this example, the liquid hydrogen storage tanks are stored underneath the wings and like the turbofan, two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust.
“Hydrogen has a different volumetric energy density than jet fuel so we have to study other storage options and aircraft architectures than existing ones,” explains Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus EVP Engineering. “This means the visual appearance of our future zero-emission aircraft will change. These three configurations provide us with some exciting options for further exploration.”
Preparing for a future free from fossil fuels
Rival Boeing’s Phantom Eye is a liquid hydrogen-fuelled, high-altitude and long-endurance unmanned aircraft system for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and communications missions. Back in 2008, it flew a manned airplane powered by hydrogen fuel cells – but to date, for both leading plane manufacturers, kerosene-powered aircraft have reigned supreme.
In tandem with the push towards greater sustainability and preparing for a post-fossil-fuels future, there is increased momentum now. Another project comprising a V-shaped liquid hydrogen plane, being developed at Delft Technology University in the Netherlands and backed by Dutch airline KLM, recently had a successful test flight.
Over the coming months, Airbus will formally launch several hydrogen demonstrator programmes, which will test hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen combustion technologies respectively. A full-scale aircraft prototype is estimated to arrive by the late 2020s.
“The ZEROe will be the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft,” says Dumont. “As an engineer, I can’t think of working on anything more exciting than that.”
Trafigura and Yara International explore clean ammonia usage
Reducing shipping emissions is a vital component of the fight against global climate change, yet Greenhouse Gas emissions from the global maritime sector are increasing - and at odds with the IMO's strategy to cut absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
How more than 70,000 ships can decrease their reliance on carbon-based sources is one of transport's most pressing decarbonisation challenges.
Yara and Trafigura intend to collaborate on initiatives that will establish themselves in the clean ammonia value chain. Under the MoU announced today, Trafigura and Yara intend to work together in the following areas:
- The supply of clean ammonia by Yara to Trafigura Group companies
- Exploration of joint R&D initiatives for clean ammonia application as a marine fuel
- Development of new clean ammonia assets including marine fuel infrastructure and market opportunities
Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, President of Yara Clean Ammonia, said the agreement is a good example of cross-industry collaboration to develop and promote zero-emission fuel in the form of clean ammonia for the shipping industry. "Building clean ammonia value chains is critical to facilitate the transition to zero emission fuels by enabling the hydrogen economy – not least within trade and distribution where both Yara and Trafigura have leading capabilities. Demand and supply of clean ammonia need to be developed in tandem," he said.
There is a growing consensus that hydrogen-based fuels will ultimately be the shipping fuels of the future, but clear and comprehensive regulation is essential, according to Jose Maria Larocca, Executive Director and Co-Head of Oil Trading for Trafigura.
Ammonia has a number of properties that require "further investigation," according to Wartsila. "It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process," it notes.
Trafigura has co-sponsored the R&D of MAN Energy Solutions’ ammonia-fuelled engine for maritime vessels, has performed in-depth studies of transport fuels with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and has published a white paper on the need for a global carbon levy for shipping fuels to be introduced by International Maritime Organization.
Oslo-based Yara produces roughly 8.5 million tonnes of ammonia annually and employs a fleet of 11 ammonia carriers, including 5 fully owned ships, and owns 18 marine ammonia terminals with 580 kt of storage capacity – enabling it to produce and deliver ammonia across the globe.
It recently established a new clean ammonia unit to capture growth opportunities in emission-free fuel for shipping and power, carbon-free fertilizer and ammonia for industrial applications.