At first glance, the three recently unveiled Airbus “concept” aircraft offer little more than a sense of déja vu. One looks remarkably similar to a classic commercial aircraft – except with longer, more flexible wings. Another resembles a turboprop-powered airliner with its arrangement of eight-bladed propellers. And the third is a “blended-wing body,” a revolutionary design that has seen some traction among engineers over the last year.
But upon closer inspection, the trio features one game-changing difference compared to predecessors: hydrogen propulsion.
“As recently as five years ago, hydrogen propulsion wasn’t even on our radar as a viable emission-reduction technology pathway,” explains Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus Vice President, Zero-Emission Aircraft. “But convincing data from other transport industries quickly changed all that. Today, we’re excited by the incredible potential hydrogen offers aviation in terms of disruptive emissions reduction.”
That is indeed the objective. Airbus recently announced its ambition to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035. This means only the most disruptive zero-emission technology to reduce the aviation industry’s climate impact will need to be rigorously tested and evaluated. And hydrogen certainly stands out from the pack: according to internal calculations, Airbus estimates hydrogen has the potential to reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions by up to 50%.