Airbus teams in Hamburg design, assemble and test the new fuel cell systems

Airbus has revealed that it is developing a hydrogen-powered fuel cell engine. The propulsion system is being considered as one of the potential solutions to equip its zero-emission aircraft that will enter service by 2035. 

Airbus will start ground and flight testing this fuel cell engine architecture onboard its ZEROe demonstrator aircraft towards the middle of the decade. The A380 MSN1 flight test aircraft for new hydrogen technologies is currently being modified to carry liquid hydrogen tanks and their associated distribution systems. 

“Fuel cells are a potential solution to help us achieve our zero-emission ambition and we are focused on developing and testing this technology to understand if it is feasible and viable  for a 2035 entry-into-service of a zero-emission aircraft,” said Glenn Llewellyn, VP Zero-Emission Aircraft, Airbus. “At scale, and if the technology targets were achieved, fuel cell engines may be able to power a one hundred passenger aircraft with a range of approximately 1,000 nautical miles. By continuing to invest in this technology we are giving ourselves additional options that will inform our decisions on the architecture of our future ZEROe aircraft, the development of which we intend to launch in the 2027-2028 timeframe.”

Airbus identified hydrogen as one of the most promising alternatives to power a zero-emission aircraft, because it emits no carbon dioxide when generated from renewable energy, with water being its most significant by-products. 

While fuels cells themselves are already used in some automobiles, they do not fulfil the stringent requirements necessary for aeronautical use. Nevertheless, it made sense for Airbus to look towards the automotive industry for a prospective partner and provider, with whom to take fuels cells to the next level – to produce specially tailored fuel cell stacks and industrialise them for the aviation industry. The best partner it found was Elring Klinger, one of the leading providers of fuel cells in the automotive industry. In 2020, these two companies created a joint venture named “Aerostack”. Notably, Aerostack has also joined forces with other stakeholders, as well as those who are working on fuel-stack development as part of a German government-supported project called H2Sky.

Two years after Aerostack was formed, the collaborative work is well underway. The first prototype fuel cell stacks are already being evaluated by Airbus in Hamburg, where the teams are designing fuel cell systems, assembling and testing them.

“We are doing everything from scratch at quite an impressive speed,” enthuses Hauke Peer Lüdders, Head of Fuel-Cell propulsion systems for ZEROe Aircraft at Airbus. “We need to understand how fuel cell systems work and react. For that first step we are intentionally designing large ones to accommodate many sensors inside and allow us to analyse each  equipment in the system, with good accessibility  in order to tailor, test and fully understand the system behaviour,” he explains.

via Airbus