Air travel may not be very widespread now, unless you are a parcel or envelope. But this does not mean that all companies involved in aviation stop working. This is perhaps the appropriate time to reinvent or take a different approach. Accordingly, Airbus has revealed three concepts for the world’s first zero emission commercial aircraft. According to Airbus, these concepts, all sharing the codename “ZEROe”, represent a different approach for zero-emission flight and could enter service by 2035. These concepts each explore 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 three concepts are based on the use of hydrogen as the primary power source. This is an option which Airbus believes holds exceptional promise as a clean aviation fuel. It is also likely to be a solution for aerospace and other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets.
“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,” said Guillaume Faury, Airbus CEO. “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.”
The three concepts for a first climate neutral zero-emission commercial aircraft are:
Carrying between 120 – 200 passengers with a potential range of 2,000+ nautical miles, it is capable of operating transcontinentally. This concept is 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.
With a capacity for up to 100 passengers, this design uses a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan. It is 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.
“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,” said Guillaume Faury. “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.”
To switch over to these zero-emission crafts, airports will require significant hydrogen transport and refueling infrastructure to meet the needs of day-to-day operations. As such, strong support from governments will be key to meet these ambitious objectives with increased funding for research & 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.
To evaluate and validate these new concept aircraft and assess whether they could be matured into viable future products, Airbus will focus its efforts on a number of technological pathways.