The fight against climate change has many fronts, but few appear as tricky as commercial air travel, a carbon-intensive sector that — pandemic-related troubles notwithstanding — appears poised to grow rapidly in coming decades. One of the world’s leading aircraft makers, however, believes it could have a solution.
Airbus on Monday outlined the ZEROe project, a trio of concept aircraft powered by hydrogen. Although the process of producing hydrogen fuel can create emissions, the fuel itself produces only water vapor as a byproduct.
Two of the Airbus concepts would be powered with liquid hydrogen in modified gas-turbine engines: a turbofan concept able to travel more than 2,000 nautical miles with up to 200 passengers aboard, and a smaller turboprop plane that would carry up to 100 passengers on short-haul flights up to 1,000 nautical miles.
The third would be based on Airbus’ “blended-wing” design that merges the wings and fuselage. Officials said that aircraft could also carry up to 200 passengers with a design that offers numerous potential options for cabin layout and fuel storage. Airbus says it hopes to put the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission aircraft into service by 2035 and, eventually, work to remove carbon emissions from the aviation sector entirely.
Its hurdles, however, are significant. In addition to getting a completely new kind of aircraft designed, built and certified, the initiative will need significant hydrogen transportation and refueling infrastructure — some of the same issues that have hampered hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Airbus stressed it would need cooperation from both industry partners and governments to make it happen.