Airbus unveils concepts for zero-emission commercial aircraft

21 Sep 2020 by Mark Caswell
Airbus ZEROe Blended Wing Body Concept

Airbus has unveiled a new project codenamed ZEROe with which it hopes to bring zero-emission commercial aircraft into service by 2035.

The manufacturer has details three aircraft concepts, all relying on hydrogen as their primary power source, which Airbus says it 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”.

The three concepts explore “various technology pathways and aerodynamic configurations”, as follows:

  • A turbofan design (120-200 passengers) 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.
  • A turboprop design (up to 100 passengers) using 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, making it a perfect option for short-haul trips.
  • A “blended-wing body” design (up to 200 passengers) concept in which the wings merge with the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan concept. The exceptionally wide fuselage opens up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution, and for cabin layout.
Airbus ZEROe Turboprop Concept

Airbus said that airports would require “significant hydrogen transport and refuelling infrastructure” to meet the needs of day-to-day operations, with support from governments needed including “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”.

Commenting on the news Airbus’ CEO Guillaume Faury said:

“This is a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector as a whole and we intend to play a leading role in the most important transition this industry has ever seen. The concepts we unveil today offer the world a glimpse of our ambition to drive a bold vision for the future of zero-emission flight.

“I strongly believe that the use of hydrogen – both in synthetic fuels and as a primary power source for commercial aircraft – has the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.”

“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.”

Last week Airbus announced plans to demonstrate the operational feasibility of its ‘fello’fly’ concept, designed to reduce aviation emissions.

Airbus partners with SAS and Frenchbee for ‘fello’fly’ emissions reduction project

The idea is inspired by biomimicry, and is based on Wake Energy Retrieval (WER), which sees “follower aircraft retrieving energy lost by a leader, by flying in the smooth updraft of air the wake creates, reducing fuel consumption in the range of 5-10 per cent per trip”.

The manufacturer has partnered with SAS and Frenchbee for the project, as well as three Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) – France’s DSNA (Direction des Services de la Navigation Aérienne), and the UK’s NATS and Eurocontrol.

A number of companies are also developing designs for electric aircraft, including a 70-seater Hybrid Electric Regional Aircraft by the Electric Aviation Group.

Airbus ZEROe Turbofan Concept
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