Airbus has announced a range of new international agreements to help progress the preparedness of airports to deliver hydrogen fuel. The company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Linde, a global industrial gases and engineering group, to jointly investigate hydrogen production, airport storage and integration of refuelling into existing ground handling operations. Both companies will define and undertake pilot projects at multiple airports worldwide from early next year. Airbus has also announced agreements with European LCC Wizz Air to explore the potential for hydrogen-powered aircraft operations and with Suzhou Industrial Park in eastern China to establish the Airbus China Research Centre, which will study advanced technologies including hydrogen energy infrastructure. And it has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with airports trade body ACI Europe to help ensure sufficient infrastructure is in place to support zero emission aircraft technologies, including hydrogen fuel. In addition to their hydrogen partnership, Airbus and Linde will also investigate the potential of power-to-liquid (PtL) fuels, reports Tony Harrington. Meanwhile, Deutsche Aircraft has signed a MoU with Sasol ecoFT on PtL technology collaboration.
Hydrogen propulsion is rapidly evolving as an option for short to medium haul air transport, with Airbus planning to introduce a family of hydrogen-powered aircraft from the mid-2030s. In 2020, the company announced its ZEROe concept for hydrogen-powered aircraft, and launched ‘Hydrogen Hub at Airports’, a programme designed to drive research into the infrastructure needed to transition to low carbon airport operations. Agreements have since been signed with partners and airports in France, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Singapore.
The global partnership between Airbus and Linde expands a cooperation agreement the companies signed in Singapore in February. “We are advancing well with hydrogen as an important technology pathway to achieve our ambition of bringing a zero-emission aircraft to market by 2035,” said Sabine Klauke, Airbus CTO. “That’s why we are working closely with partners like Linde, who have decades of experience and expertise worldwide in the storage and distribution of hydrogen.”
Linde’s VP Clean Energy, Philippe Peccard, welcomed the global expansion of his company’s collaboration with Airbus. “By harnessing both companies’ competencies, we are well positioned to collaborate with airports and government authorities in the development of viable concepts for sustainable airport hubs based on hydrogen,” he said.
Airbus also continues to enter hydrogen research partnerships with airlines, most recently joining the Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air, a major Airbus customer, to evaluate logistics and opportunities for the new fuel. Under the terms of an MoU, the two will explore the potential of hydrogen-powered operations for ultra-low-cost airlines, specifically focusing on the impact hydrogen aircraft will have on Wizz Air’s fleet, operations and infrastructure. The companies will examine specific aircraft characteristics, including flight range and refuelling time, and how these factors might impact the airline’s network, flight scheduling, ground bases and operations at airports.
“We believe that growth and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, with leading-edge new technology paving the way to more sustainable air travel,” said Johan Eidhagen, Wizz Air’s Chief People and ESG Officer. “This momentous agreement with Airbus will advance sustainable aviation across the globe through development of ultra-efficient operations and business models of the future.”
Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP Zero Emission Aircraft, said such partnerships with airlines were vital for the company in its development of zero emission aircraft. “Understanding airline fleet and network performance enables us to better define the architectural characteristics for future ZEROe aircraft as well as the impact on airports, ground support and route network,” he said. “We are very pleased to have Wizz Air on board to collaborate on the ongoing research and development into the requirements for hydrogen aircraft operations within a hydrogen-powered aviation ecosystem.”
Airbus said its collaboration with ACI Europe further aims to develop the hydrogen ecosystem by preparing the associated supporting airport infrastructure and bring these to market. It will promote the set-up of technical standards and guidance facilitating the uptake of SAF, hydrogen and electric-powered aircraft, as well as make proposals for the emergence of a policy and regulatory framework.
The establishment of a new research centre in Suzhou will provide research services in advanced manufacturing, hydrogen energy infrastructure, sustainability, electrification and other new technologies, reports China Daily. Operations are due to start in 2023.
While Airbus and Linde plan to also investigate power-to-liquid fuels, another aviation partnership has announced plans to progress the development of PtL and support its certification as a sustainable aviation fuel. Germany’s Deutsche Aircraft and South African chemicals and energy group Sasol ecoFT have signed an MoU to progress technology to produce green hydrogen-based PtL SAF, as part of the aircraft manufacturer’s D328eco aircraft programme.
Deutsche Aircraft is targeting 2026 for certification of this new regional aircraft, which it wants to be compatible with PtL as well as other certified SAF and regular kerosene. Fischer-Tropsch technology specialist Sasol ecoFT converts gasified biomass feedstocks or captured carbon dioxide into liquid fuels. The company is experienced in coal-to-liquid conversion, which is chemically similar to PtL SAF, and will begin their partnership by testing the compatibility of blended synthetic fuels produced through this process.
“Sasol ecoFT and Deutsche Aircraft stand at the beginning of a decarbonisation journey,” said Regina Pouzolz, Head of Sustainability for Deutsche Aircraft. “We both have products originally designed in the age of fossil fuels. Together we can develop rapid solutions to combat climate change by improving our products while building on our heritage and expertise.”
Sasol ecoFT VP Helga Sachs added: “Joining forces between aircraft manufacturers and fuel producers is vital if we want to ensure that aviation becomes sustainable, while enjoying the highest possible safety standards. We are extremely excited about the partnership with Deutsche Aircraft as we take a holistic approach to climate-neutral aviation by looking at the whole value chain from fuel production up to aircraft system level.”
Photo: Sabine Klauke, Airbus CTO and Philippe Peccard, VP Clean Energy, Linde, sign cooperation agreement at the ILA Airshow in Berlin