Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is developing an airplane engine based on fuel cells, which would use green hydrogen as its fuel. The company announced its plan at its annual Airbus Summit in Toulouse, southern France, at the end of November.
“We have assembled most of the power generation modules, some of the cooling and air systems. The electric motors are still being tested on the test benches”, Airbus’ director responsible for zero-emissions demonstrators and their testing Mathias Andriamisaina told the audience.
“So far, the equipment has not been optimized, but now it is only the first step, when the purpose is to learn”, Andriamisaina continued.
However, the company’s goal is already towards the end of 2023 to have developed equipment suitable for aviation use, which it intends to test in the air around the middle of the decade. The plans are to install the equipment on an Airbus A380 aircraft unit that serves as a test bench, which also serves as a test platform for a hydrogen-powered gas turbine.
Engine principle is somewhat straightforward: Hydrogen reacts with oxygen in the cell and produces electricity, which inverters convert from direct current to alternating current. This current powers the electric motors that drive the propeller shaft through the gearbox.
The heat produced by the fuel cell is led to the surrounding air through heat exchangers, and the water evaporates as water vapor into the atmosphere. The process does not produce nitrogen oxides, and according to Airbus, the amount of water vapor is also quite moderate.
The goal is an engine with a power of two megawatts, which would accelerate an aircraft intended for regional routes of about one hundred passengers in 2035. There is no time to waste, especially when the challenge is to integrate the technology into a relatively small engine compartment.