Future Aircrafts— Hydrogen Or Electric?
Cruising Heights|August - September 2021
Racing to meet tough emission standards for the next decade, aircraft manufacturers are experimenting with a variety of technologies for a reduced carbon footprint and improved fuel burn .

Reducing emissions that leads to costly taxes and restrictions plus a reduction in operating costs for airlines will the key drivers as OEMs look at new technology options for future aircraft. This is the only that most manufacturers are agreed upon.

That apart there is a total lack of consensus on what should be the roadmap. European giant Airbus is clear that hybrid-electric propulsion is totally ill-suited for large aircraft. They believe that Hydrogen engines is the way—they reduce the environmental footprint, provide huge economic savings, and do not disrupt dramatically the present aviation supply chain.

But these are not just thoughts that reverberate within the Airbus shopfloor. The company has formally called on government and regulators and aviation authorities to create the blueprint and the necessary infrastructure to facilities companies take the first step in this direction. Still, Airbus has called on governments and aviation authorities to plan the first steps to provide the necessary infrastructure to make hydrogenpowered planes viable.

In fact, in a release Airbus said: “we have the ambition to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035. Hydrogen propulsion will help us to deliver on this ambition. Our ZEROe concept aircraft enable us to explore a variety of configurations and hydrogen technologies that will shape the development of our future zero-emission aircraft.”

All three ZEROe concepts are hybrid-hydrogen aircraft. They are powered by hydrogen combustion through modified gas turbine engines. Liquid hydrogen is used as fuel for combustion with oxygen.

In addition, hydrogen fuel cells create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system. All of these technologies are complementary, and the benefits are additive.

Across the Atlantic, there is much scepticism at the Airbus pathway. NASA, for example, has launched what has been termed the Sustainable Flight National Partnership programme whose prime objective is to achieve the creation of an aircraft that is 25 per cent more efficient. The programme aims to study a hybrid-electric propulsion solution for single-aisle aircraft.

In the US, the project has picked full steam with the Biden administration making it a part of their 2022 budget and wanting a full-scale experimental aircraft demonstrator within five years.

That should beno problem considering NASA is already working on the project and all its concepts in partnership with Boeing that is sure to emerge as the biggest beneficiary of this development. Infact the talk inside Boeing is that this project is a much better alternative to a clean sheet aircraft to the 757 or the 737.

In 2019, NASA and Boeing had tested the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW) project, which consists of an advanced profile composite wing that uses supports attached to the fuselage.

NASA is likely to study multiple technologies that together could provide a flight 25 percent more efficient than current aircraft. Among them is the Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstrator (EPFD). In the document sent to Congress as part of its budgetary requirements, NASA said: “to demonstrate in-flight one-megawatt class electric powertrain systems necessary to achieve hybridelectric propulsion systems for use in the design of large propulsion systems for single-aisle transports”.

“NASA Aeronautics’ cost-sharing partnerships with US industry will enable the next generation single-aisle transport, expected by the early 2030s, to be a game-changing, ultra-efficient and low-carbon emitting design at least 25 percent more fuel-efficient than today”, said the agency.

Meanwhile, Airbus has decided to concentrate its efforts on metallic hydrogen tanks in a complementary setup by creating Zero-Emission Development Centres (ZEDC) at its sites in Bremen, Germany, and in Nantes, France.

The goal of the ZEDC is to achieve cost-competitive cryogenic tank manufacturing to support the successful future market launch of ZEROe and to accelerate the development of hydrogen propulsion technologies. The design and integration of tank structures is crucial to the performance of a future hydrogen aircraft.

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