By Chase Hagl
Airbus Launches Hydrogen Engine Demonstration Program
Airbus on Wednesday announced that it will be teaming up with the world’s largest jet engine manufacturer, CFM International, to collaborate on a program to produce and test a hydrogen-powered jet engine. CFM International is a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines.
The collaboration will conduct both ground and flight tests of the hydrogen combustion engine, with the goal of entry into service of zero-emission aircraft by 2035, ultimately accomplishing Airbus’s ambition of developing the world’s first zero-emission aircraft.
Demonstration of the engine will be done by utilizing a modified Airbus A380 aircraft equipped with liquid hydrogen tanks. The engine will be mounted along the rear fuselage of the aircraft to allow engine emissions, including contrails, to be monitored separately from the A380’s four wing-mounted engines.
The decision to utilize the A380 was a strategic one, as the world’s largest passenger-carrying aircraft has the capacity to carry the liquid hydrogen tanks and other equipment required for flight tests.
Airbus will oversee the project by defining propulsion system requirements, supervising flight testing, providing aircraft, etc., and says flight testing could begin as early as 2026 following the completion of an extensive ground testing program.
The announcement comes 18 months after the European aircraft manufacturer launched its ZEROe program to develop a hydrogen-powered aircraft.
“This is the most significant step undertaken at Airbus to usher in a new era of hydrogen-powered flight since the unveiling of our ZEROe concepts back in September 2020,” said Airbus Chief Technical Officer, Sabine Klauke, in a statement. “By leveraging the expertise of American and European engine manufacturers to make progress on hydrogen combustion technology, this international partnership sends a clear message that our industry is committed to making zero-emission flight a reality.”
The engine, a General Electric Passport turbofan, was selected for the program for its physical size, advanced turbomachinery and fuel flow capability and will have a modified combustor, fuel system and control system in order to handle the higher temperatures and speed at which hydrogen burns as opposed to the regular jet fuel.
“Hydrogen combustion capability is one of the foundational technologies we are developing and maturing as part of the CFM RISE Program,” stated Gaël Méheust, President & CEO of CFM. “Bringing together the collective capabilities and experience of CFM, our parent companies, and Airbus, we really do have the dream team in place to successfully demonstrate a hydrogen propulsion system.”
Tuesday’s announcement comes at a time where aircraft manufacturers and air carriers are continuously looking for ways to slash their emission output and reduce their carbon footprint in an industry that accounts for more than 2% of the world’s total emissions. Ultimately, the push to become more sustainable will lead to a much brighter and long-lasting future for aviation and companies involved, regardless of if the focus is placed more on sustainable aviation fuels as main competitor Boeing, or on an alternate form of fuel to power aircraft such as hydrogen.