Airbus is testing a hydrogen-fuelled engine on an A380 jet. That’s right: one of those great big jets which, despite being much loved for their size, are slowly going extinct thanks to a combination of COVID-19, a lack of demand and more cost-efficient new technology.
But the only way to stay relevant in this world is to be constantly improving. And perhaps Airbus’ latest experiment with an A380 could save the mighty jet from extinction (a few airlines still fly it for long haul flights but its numbers are certainly dwindling).
Airbus plans to launch the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035, and it is using an A380 for testing.
To conduct the test Airbus will trial (and monitor) hydrogen fuel technology inside a modified version of one of its A380 jetliners. The A380 jetliners were discontinued last year due to the low number of planes sold (Airbus’ head of business analysis and market forecast Bob Lange said: “In the end, you have to face facts, and we could see that we were building A380s faster than people were ordering them”).
Back to the hydrogen test though: Airbus has partnered with CFM International (a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation, a division of General Electric of the United States, and Safran Aircraft Engines) to conduct the trial. Airbus says it will use an “A380 flying testbed fitted with liquid hydrogen tanks” to test propulsion technology for its future emissions free aircraft.
In a video on Airbus’ Youtube page, Glenn Llewellyn, a top-tier leader on climate strategy for aviation and the VP of Zero Emission Aircraft at Airbus, said: “Now our plan is to take this [A380 aircraft] and modify it into a hydrogen propulsion flight laboratory.”
He added: “Our ambition is to take this aircraft and add a stub in between the two rear doors at the upper level. That stub will have a hydrogen-powered gas turbine on the end of it and inside the aircraft there will be hydrogen storage and hydrogen distribution, which will feed this engine with hydrogen.”
“The aim of this flight laboratory will be to learn a huge amount about hydrogen propulsion systems in real ground and flight conditions.”Glenn Llewellyn
“This is key in enabling us to achieve our ambition of having a zero-emission aircraft in commercial service by 2035.”
The Airbus video then takes you inside the main deck where you can see how different this ‘Frankenstein’ jet looks compared to a commercial A380.
In the middle of the main deck you can see liquid hydrogen tanks in the middle, which Mr Llewellyn explains “will be surrounded by a hermetically sealed container.” From those tanks liquid hydrogen will be taken up to the engine, which will be located at the rear on the outside of the aircraft.
Mr Llewellyn also says that the large A380 aircraft was chosen because its size will allow Airbus to evolve the technology over time
“There will be a huge amount of instrumentation and sensors to give information on how these systems function during both ground and flight conditions,” he said, explaining how data will be relayed back to the flight test station allowing the test engineers to operate the tests in real-time during the flight.
According to atag.com, “Worldwide, flights produced 915 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019” and “globally, humans produced over 43 billion tonnes of CO2.”
So it’s safe to say if Airbus’ tests pay off, they’re really going to pay off (both for the environment and the company‘s bottom line)…