Hydrogen Aviation Lab

Hydrogen Aviation Lab - cc-by © Hamburg Aviation

Liquid hydrogen, or LH2, is one of the most promising ways of significantly reducing CO2 emissions in aviation. Liquefying hydrogen cools the gas to -253 degrees, from where it can be used to power engines for civil aviation. Yet hydrogen in liquid form behaves differently from the traditional fossil aviation fuel, kerosene. How can operators, airports and manufacturers handle liquid hydrogen so that it is not only environmentally friendly but also safe for use? How does existing infrastructure and airport operations need to be adapted for LH2?

To answer these and many other questions around commercial LH2 use in aviation, a consortium of partners from research and industry has set up the Hydrogen Aviation Lab. Funded by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, this unique real-world laboratory is run by Lufthansa Technik, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Center for Applied Aviation Research (ZAL) and Hamburg Airport.

The Hydrogen Aviation Lab uses a decommissioned Airbus A320 of the Lufthansa Group, the former “Halle an der Saale”. For this purpose, a hydrogen infrastructure is built on the ground and a liquid hydrogen tank and a fuel cell are installed in the aircraft.

After successful operation for thirty years, the aircraft is now being used to explore the following area:

Refuelling and filling with liquid hydrogen

  • How can hydrogen be optimally integrated into existing airport infrastructure?

  • How do we ensure competitive refuelling times and procedures?

  • How do we avoid overfilling and wasting hydrogen?

Cooling, insulation and occupational safety

  • How do we prevent ice build-up on components and surfaces?

  • What additional protection requirements may arise in the work area (No Step / No Grab Areas, personal protective equipment for employees)?

Hydrogen gas leakage: the so-called "boil-off"

  • How do we prevent LH2, which becomes gaseous (Gaseous H2, in short: GH2), from escaping in an uncontrolled manner?

  • What safety protocols arise from handling hydrogen, for example during refuelling and storage?

  • How can we recover and further use escaped GH2?

Inerting the stored hydrogen

  • What protective measures must be taken with regard to the fire hazard of H2?

  • What could suitable safety protocols look like?

  • What training needs to be developed for ground or maintenance personnel?

Parallel to the research work with the real hardware, a so-called digital twin of the Airbus A320 is also being created for the Hydrogen Aviation Lab. With the help of simulations, the scientists can then also develop and test methods of so-called predictive maintenance for the systems and components of future aircraft generations. On the basis of targeted data analyses, failures of the hydrogen components and systems can then be predicted in good time so that a prophylactic replacement can be carried out before the failure affects the operation of the aircraft.