The world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft could enter service by 2035, according to aircraft manufacturers, Airbus, who have just unveiled three design concepts.
The three concepts – all codenamed “ZEROe” – each represent a different approach to achieving zero-emission flight, exploring various technology pathways and aerodynamic configurations in order to support the company’s ambition of leading the way in the decarbonisation of the entire aviation industry.
All of these concepts rely on hydrogen as a primary power source – an option which Airbus believes holds exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel and is likely to be a solution for aerospace and many other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets.
Among the concepts are a turbofan design with a range of 2,000+ nautical miles, capable of operating transcontinentally and powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, through combustion. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead. The aircraft would accomodate between 120-200 passengers.
For short hauls trips, Airbus have conceptualised a turboprop design, seating up to 100 passengers, which a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan and also powered by hydrogen combustion in modified gas-turbine engines, which would be capable of traveling more than 1,000 nautical miles.
The third concept features a “blended-wing body” design in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan concept. With room for up to 100 passengers, the exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.
Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO, said: “These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035. The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem. Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”
In order to tackle these challenges, airports will require significant hydrogen transport and refueling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations. Support from governments will be key to meet these ambitious objectives with increased funding for research and technology, digitalisation, and mechanisms that encourage the use of sustainable fuels and the renewal of aircraft fleets to allow airlines to retire older, less environmentally-friendly aircraft earlier.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.