Computer-made image of hydrogen-powered aircraft of Airbus. Agence France-Presse
Airbus has unveiled three visual concepts for “zero emission” airplanes to be powered by hydrogen. It is the planemaker’s latest effort to draw public attention to its “zero-emission” ambitions as European governments push for cleaner technology in their post-COVID recovery plans.
Airbus has set itself a deadline of 2035 to put a carbon-free commercial aircraft into service, a target engine makers like Safran have described as ambitious.
The “ZEROe” initiative includes concepts for two conventional-looking aircraft: a turbofan jet engine able to carry 120-200 people over 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) and a turboprop able to carry up to 100 people for 1,000 nm.
Unlike normal planes, the engines would be adapted to burn liquid hydrogen stored in the rear fuselage.
A third proposal incorporates a revolutionary “blended wing body” design similar to one presented in February.
At the same time, Airbus is working on a demonstrator, with initial results expected in 2021.
“The demonstrator will allow us to assess what the most promising architecture is,” Airbus Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini said in an interview.
“We see it as applicable to all Airbus products eventually.” To meet its 2035 goal, Airbus would need to select technologies by 2025, she said. Other industry executives said such a clean break in propulsion could take until 2040.
Challenges include finding ways to safely store volatile liquid hydrogen during flight at very cold temperatures.
Airbus dismissed concerns that hydrogen would be unsafe and has called for massive investment in new energy infrastructure.
While hydrogen has been discussed since the 1970s, it remains too expensive for widespread use. Proponents say infrastructure investment and rising demand will lower the cost.
Most hydrogen used today is extracted from natural gas, which creates carbon emissions.
However, Airbus said the hydrogen used for aviation would be produced from renewable energy and extracted from water with electrolysis. That’s a carbon-free process if powered by renewable electricity, but it is currently more expensive. European planemaker Airbus will do its best to cut costs without resorting to compulsory redundancies, but it cannot guarantee they won’t happen, CEO Guillaume Faury told French radio station RTL on Tuesday.
With air travel at a fraction of its normal level due to restrictions and travellers’ fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines have slowed deliveries of new aircraft.
Airbus has said it needs to shed 15,000 posts worldwide.
“The crisis is existential. Our life as a business is potentially at risk if we don’t take the right measures. We are taking them,” Faury said.
“The situation is so serious, and we are faced with so much uncertainty, that I think no one can guarantee there won’t be compulsory redundancies if we’re to adapt to the situation, especially if it evolves further.”
“On the other hand, what I say clearly is that we have a lot of work to do, we will do everything we can to avoid arriving at that point,” he told the radio station.
“There are lots of measures we can take between voluntary redundancies and compulsory redundancies.”
In a letter sent to staff this month, Faury warned them the planemaker may have to carry out compulsory layoffs after air travel failed to recover from the pandemic as quickly as anticipated. Separately, European stocks bounced on Tuesday after a sell-off in the previous session, as technology and healthcare stocks gained, but worries about new coronavirus restrictions in Britain and elsewhere kept travel stocks under pressure.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.8%, recovering from its worst fall in three months, with technology stocks that have outperformed this year, rising 1.6%.
With COVID-19 cases rising rapidly in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce fresh restrictions that includes closing of pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues at 10 p.m. across England. UK’s midcap index, made up of more domestically focussed companies, fell 0.5%, with pub owners JD Wetherspoon , Mitchells & Butlers and Marston’s trading flat to marginally higher.
UK’s internationally oriented FTSE 100, however, rose 0.5%, benefiting from a weaker pound, while the German DAX jumped 1.1%.
“Growth stocks and megacaps have proven resilient showing that for now contagion hasn’t set in with force,” Sebastien Galy, macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management, wrote in a note. “This means that as volatility increases through losses one isn’t forced that much to sell winners.”