Six aviation and energy businesses have formed a sustainable propulsion partnership in New Zealand to assess and drive the introduction of flights powered by green hydrogen. The Hydrogen Consortium has been established by Airbus, Air New Zealand, Christchurch Airport, Fortescue Future Industries, Hiringa Energy and Fabrum. Together, the companies will create a vision for hydrogen-powered air transport in the South Pacific nation, study the hydrogen supply chain, assess projected hydrogen needs for New Zealand aviation to 2050, and develop a package of policies, regulations and incentives to promote hydrogen-powered air transport. The first phase of the programme will be to research introduction of the fuel and to design within six months a hydrogen ecosystem for New Zealand’s aviation industry. The group will then explore whether test flights of hydrogen-powered aircraft can be performed in the country.
The consortium was launched at Christchurch Airport, which is developing a 400-hectare renewable energy precinct. “The consortium will see some of the world’s best experts collaborate on one of the most promising zero emission fuels – green hydrogen,” said the airport’s Chief Executive, Justin Watson.
The initiative follows Air New Zealand’s recent sustainable aviation partnership expansion, in which nine aircraft or powertrain manufacturers have been appointed as technical advisors to the airline as it progresses plans to introduce zero-emission aircraft on regional air routes from 2026 (see article). Membership of The Hydrogen Consortium also underscores Air New Zealand’s growing interest in hydrogen as a potential fuel, adding to an earlier collaboration with Airbus to explore how hydrogen propulsion would work in the airline’s network.
“To fly hydrogen-powered aircraft in New Zealand will need an aviation ecosystem that can support it,” said Kiri Hannifin, Air New Zealand’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “The Hydrogen Consortium brings together energy, aircraft, airline operator and airport expertise with the aim of bringing this to life. We can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.” The airline plans to operate its first zero-emission aircraft type by 2026, and to replace or upgrade its 23 Q300 turboprops from 2030. It is also actively progressing the introduction of sustainable aviation fuel.
Karine Guenan, Airbus VP of the ZEROe Ecosystem, said achievement of sustainable air transport required collaboration between partners across the aviation and energy sectors. “The consortium we are building brings together a number of pioneering partners with a common interest – to make hydrogen-powered aviation in New Zealand a reality.”
Within the new consortium, Airbus will engage with aviation and non-aviation stakeholders to assess energy supply needs to enable the operation of hydrogen-powered aircraft. Airbus is planning to develop a new hydrogen-powered commercial passenger aircraft for entry into service by 2035.
Hiringa Energy, a New Zealand-based developer, producer and supplier of green hydrogen, is already constructing key infrastructure to support the transition of all transport modes to the new fuel and will activate its first four production and high-capacity refuelling stations this year, ahead of national expansion in 2024.
“There are green hydrogen-fuelled buses, trucks, trains and boats already in service,” said Hiringa’s CEO. Andrew Clennett. These include the chase boat which his company is fuelling for Emirates Team New Zealand, the nation’s entry in the 37th America’s Cup yacht race in Barcelona next year. “Aircraft are a key next step and this consortium has formed to ensure these planes have the infrastructure and hydrogen supply they need to take off here.”
Christchurch-based liquid hydrogen company Fabrum, which designed the hydrogen propulsion technology for the Team New Zealand chase boat, has developed a lightweight liquid hydrogen fuel tank for use in aircraft. “Having these organisations around the same table will turbocharge what we all learn,” said Fabrum co-founder Christopher Boyle. “Together we’ll make a big difference in taking zero emission aviation forward.”
A global green hydrogen technology company based in Australia, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) has a growing involvement in the aviation sector. It promotes the use of hydrogen and ammonia produced from 100% renewable energy. “We are on a mission to eliminate fossil fuels, including from the aviation industry, and green hydrogen is the key to achieving this,” said FFI’s CEO, Mark Hutchinson. “The consortium members all have extraordinary expertise in and commitment to the decarbonisation of air travel, and together we believe we can develop a pathway to New Zealand becoming a global trailblazer in this pursuit.”
The company is already a green hydrogen partner of Airbus and is collaborating with US-based Universal Hydrogen, which has developed a containerised fuel system in which green hydrogen, stored in capsules, is transported to airports and loaded directly onto the aircraft it will be used to power, sidestepping the need to use or upgrade airport fuelling infrastructure. The company is preparing to test fly a prototype aircraft in the US.
Christchurch Airport has cut its emissions by 90% since 2016 and now advises other airports on decarbonisation strategies. In 2020, it was the first to achieve the newly-established Airport Carbon Accreditation Level 4/4+, the airport industry’s highest carbon reduction recognition. It received the accreditation after cutting its Scope 3 emissions by 83% through the installation of ground source heating and cooling in its terminal building and reducing Scope 2 emissions through the introduction of LED lighting and improved energy efficiencies. It also introduced ground power for aircraft, eliminating the need to use their fossil fuel-powered auxiliary power units while at the airport.
Image: The liquid hydrogen-powered Airbus ZEROe concept aircraft in the turboprop configuration