Airbus’s aspirations to field a zero-emission narrowbody by 2035 hinges not only on overcoming the technical hurdles of designing and building a hydrogen-powered airliner but on the so-called ecosystem that will allow for its operation in a system now designed for conventionally powered aircraft. Bringing not only hydrogen— but so-called green hydrogen—at the right price and quantity and from the right sources to the airports where Airbus’s ZEROe aircraft will operate stands among the foremost considerations. As Airbus vice president of ZEROe H2 ecosystem Karine Guenan put it, “there is no point having a zero-emission aircraft if the aircraft doesn’t meet airline needs.”
Appearing in Toulouse during the first day of Airbus’s recent Sustainability Summit, Guenan and Airbus vice present of zero-emission aircraft Glenn Llewelynn cited the scores of partnerships since the launch of the ZEROe project has entered to address infrastructure and “ecosystem” needs around the world. Just in the last year, it signed an agreement with Changi Airport Group, global industrial gases and engineering company Linde, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to study the potential for a future hydrogen hub in the city-state. Other agreements in Asia-Pacific involve partners in Japan, South Korea, and Australia, while in the U.S. it inked an MOU with Delta Air Lines among other undisclosed partners, and in Europe with Milan Airport, Venice Airports, and the UK’s National Gas company.
Guenan also stressed the importance of Airbus’s discussions with electricity suppliers and its studies into the possibility of using current gas pipelines to transport hydrogen. “Securing an entire end-to-end clean hydrogen value chain is absolutely key,” she said. “And there is no point either in having a zero-emission aircraft if an airport can’t host and operate it.”
While studies continue into the infrastructure needed to support aircraft operation in 2035, recent efforts by Airbus have already yielded more immediate and concrete results. For example, Airbus has signed a partnership agreement with HyPort, a joint venture between Engie Solutions and the Regional Agency for Energy and Climate in Occitanie (AREC), to develop one of the world’s first low-carbon hydrogen production and distribution stations at an airport.
Crews completed construction of the hydrogen station at Toulouse-Blagnac airport earlier this year and the production, storage, and distribution systems are undergoing final testing. The station, scheduled to enter service in early 2023 next year, will carry the capacity to produce about 400 kg of hydrogen per day, providing the possibility to power some 50 ground transportation vehicles.
Airbus and HyPort continue work to put into place a deployment plan for the expansion of the hydrogen-fueled ground operations, adapting production and distribution means, as well as infrastructure capacity, to cope with the expected increase in hydrogen demand in the coming years. Airbus also expects the partnership to help outline requirements and provide guidance on the safety of operations, regulatory compliance, social acceptance, and the financial investment needed for the widespread use of hydrogen at airports.
“Our involvement with HyPort demonstrates the tangible progress Airbus is making on its journey to secure the future energy ecosystems of tomorrow,” said Guenan, “Using hydrogen to decarbonize all airport-associated ground transport in the 2020 to 2030 timeframe will pave the way for hydrogen availability for zero-emission aircraft by 2035.”
In 2020, Airbus launched “Hydrogen Hub at Airports” to help airports identify infrastructure requirements for future hydrogen aircraft and low-carbon airport operations across the entire value chain.
During last week’s sustainability summit, Airbus announced it has started work on hydrogen fuel cell technology for its planned next-generation airliners.