Airbus plans to test hydrogen-combustion aircraft engine

Airbus plans to test a hydrogen-powered combustion engine by the middle of this decade.

The test will be conducted in partnership with turbofan engine maker CFM International, which is a joint venture of General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines.

The testing program is a step toward Airbus’ goal of putting a zero-emissions, hydrogen-powered aircraft into service by 2035. 

Airbus and CFM will conduct the test using an Airbus A380 aircraft and a GE Passport turbofan engine modified to run on hydrogen. The engine will be mounted along the rear of the A380 fuselage to allow engine emissions, including contrails, to be monitored separately from those of the engines powering the aircraft. CFM will execute an extensive ground-test program ahead of the A380 flight test, the companies said. 

Airbus chief technology officer Sabine Klauke characterized the testing program as the most significant step the company has taken in its hydrogen aircraft development program since it unveiled a trio of zero-emission, hydrogen-powered aircraft concepts in 2020. 

“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,” Klauke said. 

Aviation accounts for an estimated 3.5% of global climate change, according to a 2020 study published in the peer-review journal Atmospheric Environment. However, airlines and manufacturers have committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Development of hydrogen propulsion is one strategy that has been presented to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. 

Under a scenario presented by IATA in October, 65% of aviation’s carbon footprint would be ameliorated by ramped up production and use of sustainable aviation fuel, while new propulsion technologies, including hydrogen, would abate another 13%. Efficiency improvements would do away with 3%. And the remaining 19% would be dealt with through carbon capture and storage and via carbon offsets.

Airbus began pivoting toward hydrogen in 2020 after receiving a commitment of $1.7 billion from the French government to be put toward development of a hydrogen-powered plane.

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