European Airbus wants to build its own aircraft that can fly on hydrogen. The fact that the company is developing its own engines means that it is leading the way in sustainable aviation. The sector will have to go green in the coming decades, especially in Europe.
Airbus announced in a joint statement with companies such as Air France that it was committed to sustainable aviation. Help from European governments is needed, however, in order to set up industrial partnerships, among other things. If, for example, Airbus builds a hydrogen engine, but there is subsequently not enough sustainable hydrogen available, all that work will have been for nothing.
That Airbus wants to make the engines in-house is a big step. Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus, said in an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that manufacturing the engines in-house is among the possibilities. It would be a major turning point for the aircraft manufacturer since hydrogen engines require a different type of production line than standard kerosene-powered jet engines.
Flying on hydrogen
While hydrogen can in principle be burned in an engine (with some minor modifications to the system), this is usually not the best way to use it. A fuel cell, which are aso used in hydrogen-powered vehicles, usually works better. For Airbus, the production of hydrogen-electric engines seems to be the route to take. What the preconditions are for producing a new generation of engines is unclear.
Aviation had long been exempt from the sustainability requirements that other sectors have had to meet. For example, only flights made within Europe fell into the emissions trading system, where companies are charged for CO₂ emissions. But if the EU wants to be climate-neutral by 2050, aviation will also have to adapt. The automotive industry is one sector that shows that you have to start decades earlier; for a long time European carmakers were lagging far behind newcomer Tesla. In the meantime, production lines have been adapted and there are plenty of European electric cars rolling off the assembly lines.
It remains to be seen if and how this will work with aircraft engines over the coming years. No doubt Airbus will expect a contribution from the EU, as will almost all companies which have to adapt their business activities for the sake of sustainability.