Airbus has taken another significant step towards the introduction of its proposed ZEROe passenger aircraft by 2035 by establishing a Zero Emission Development Centre (ZEDC) for hydrogen technologies at its Filton, UK, facility. A priority of the centre, which has just commenced technology development, will be to come up with a cost-competitive cryogenic fuel system for zero-emission passenger aircraft, while simultaneously strengthening UK skills and expertise in hydrogen propulsion. Activation of the new ZEDC follows the recent formation of a partnership between Airbus and engine manufacturer CFM International, which will use a modified Airbus A380 as a testbed for hydrogen fuel trials from 2026. Airbus has also forged industrial partnerships in markets including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia to research air and ground requirements necessary for hydrogen-powered aircraft, reports Tony Harrington.
The Filton ZEDC is one of the beneficiaries of a £685 million ($860m) commitment by the UK government to support the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) during the next three years in developing zero-carbon and ultra-low-emission aircraft technologies.
“Establishing the ZEDC in the UK expands Airbus’ in-house industrial capabilities to design, develop, test and manufacture cryogenic hydrogen storage tanks and related systems for the ZEROe project across Airbus’ four home countries,” said Airbus CTO Sabine Klauke. “This, coupled with our partnership with ATI, will allow us to leverage our respective expertise to realise the potential of hydrogen technology to support the decarbonisation of the aviation industry.”
Technology development at the Filton centre will include full product and industrial capabilities, ranging from components to whole system and cryogenic testing. In the UK, Airbus already specialises in end-to-end fuel systems development, one of the most complex and critical technologies for future hydrogen aircraft. The new facility expands the research and technology capabilities of Airbus in the UK, in addition to the company’s work on cryogenic liquid hydrogen tanks at existing ZEDC facilities across Europe. In Madrid and Stade, Germany, the company is focused on composite structure technologies, while metallic structure technologies are progressed in Nantes, France, and Bremen, Germany. All of the ZEDCs are expected to be operational next year for ground testing of the first fully-functional cryogenic hydrogen tank, ahead of flight testing from 2026.
Airbus said the new Filton facility reaffirmed its long-term commitment to continue as a leading participant in the British aerospace sector, working with the Jet Zero Council to progress research and jobs in sustainable aviation and helping the UK to achieve its target for net zero emissions. The activation of the UK ZEDC also followed the opening in June last year of a £40 million AIRtec research and testing plant, also at Filton, funded jointly by Airbus and the ATI to deliver next-generation aircraft wings, landing gear systems and fuel system designs.
Since September 2020, when it announced its ZEROe programme and initial aircraft concepts, Airbus has established industrial partnerships in New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Japan to help progress a transition to hydrogen-powered air transport, providing aircraft characteristics, fleet energy requirements and insights on supply, ground support and infrastructure for this new propulsion technology.
Earlier this year, Airbus and CFM International, a 50/50 company of GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, announced a partnership in which Airbus will equip an A380 super jumbo with liquid hydrogen tanks, and oversee flight testing with the new fuel, while CFM will modify the combustor, fuel system and control system of a GE Passport turbofan engine to operate on hydrogen, attaching the converted powerplant to the rear fuselage of the test plane to assess engine emissions, including contrails, separately from the engines powering the plane.
Airbus has since signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Australian renewable energy company Fortescue Future Industries to investigate the use of liquid hydrogen and power-to-liquid fuels for aviation, scenarios for hydrogen demand in air transport, refuelling specifications, and the regulatory framework governing the new fuel, further progressing its plans to introduce zero-emission hydrogen powered aircraft into commercial service by 2035.
“Partnerships and cross-sectoral approaches are a necessity to make zero-emission aviation a reality,” said Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP Zero Emission Aircraft.
Image: Three concepts of the Airbus ZEROe hybrid-hydrogen aircraft