© Airbus
Author profile picture

Germany aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. But to achieve this, fossil energy sources must make way for renewable energies – especially in the transport sector on the road, on water and in the air. Hydrogen is seen as the great bearer of hope here and is expected to change things, especially in Hamburg. To this end, scientists at the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht – Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG) and the Technical University of Hamburg are working together with Airbus on an overall concept for the aviation of the future. The aim of “Green Operation for Future Aviation” is to supply a production site with hydrogen cost-effectively and efficiently, using the Airbus site in Hamburg-Finkenwerder as an example. This ranges from certification of hydrogen systems and fuel cell technology to the future construction of aircraft that could run on hydrogen.

The Goal: ‘Zero emission aviation’

Airbus aims to have the first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft in service by 2035. But until that time comes and a market launch can take place, the possibility of refueling must be extensively tested and a facility for it created on the factory site. “These are questions we will address in the ‘Green Operation of Future Aviation’ project: How can the supply of hydrogen for the production site be realized efficiently and economically to achieve a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions? How can new products and applications be supplied with hydrogen at the plant?” explains Professor Thomas Klassen, coordinator of the project and head of the HZG Institute for Hydrogen Technology.

The project is scheduled to run until the end of September 2022 and is being financed by the city of Hamburg with just under €1.4 million. Hamburg’s Senator for Economics and Innovation Michael Westhagemann stresses that as the world’s third-largest civil aviation location, the aim is to make the industry more sustainable and environmentally compatible. “In doing so, we want to help achieve our climate targets and at the same time emerge from the crisis stronger and more innovative. There is no question in my mind that hydrogen will play a key role in this,” he says. “It will have to be clarified in which areas exactly hydrogen can be used most sensibly – be it in production, refueling in the form of liquid hydrogen to operate cabin electronics or engines, or supplying the plant halls. At the end of the project, we will have solutions for these issues and be one step closer to the goal of ‘zero emission aviation’.”

Hydrogen for industry and mobility

It’s not just in the operation of aircraft that hydrogen will play a key role in the future, he said. The technology is also very promising across sectors as an energy carrier for industry and mobility on the ground, assures Dr. André Walter, CEO of Airbus Commercial in Germany and head of the Hamburg plant. “We have had close partnerships with the universities and research institutions in Hamburg for decades. So we are very pleased that this cooperation will now be expanded even further in the future technology of hydrogen use.”

In Hamburg-Finkenwerder, the researchers plan to start working on a site analysis to investigate where hydrogen has advantages other than in aircraft, and to what extent the demand for hydrogen could increase in the coming years. After that, they will analyze “the different options for hydrogen supply, which are sure to change significantly over the coming years.” They plan to consider both their own local production and consumption from regional hydrogen sources as well as national supply and imported hydrogen, such as from southern Europe, North Africa (Tunisia) and Australia. The researchers also plan to investigate different storage options. “A model based on all these factors will enable the optimization of the entire hydrogen supply, including use in terms of costs, energy efficiency and emissions. At the same time the model must take into account the respective dependencies and expected development over time,” summarizes Prof. Martin Kaltschmitt, head of the Institute for Environmental Technology and Energy Economics at the Technical University of Hamburg.

Based on the collected findings of the project, a long-term overall concept for the development and expansion of hydrogen supply and use at the Airbus plant in Finkenwerder will be created in the end, which will also serve as a basis for investment decisions. In the long term, however, this concept could be useful not just in Hamburg, says Thomas Klassen. “The concept we develop can then be used as a starting point for the development of infrastructure to supply airports or even manufacturers of vehicles and ships.”

More articles on hydrogen can be found here.