Airbus – in dire financial problems – talks of plans for hydrogen fuelled future planes
Airbus has been publicising its hopes to have hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes in service within 20 years. Apart from the technical problems of how to store liquid or compressed hydrogen on a plane, and how to transport it etc, there is the massive problem of the energy it would take to generate the vast amount of hydrogen that would be needed. Currently there is “blue” hydrogen, which is generated from fossil fuels, and the production of which emits carbon (unless and until there is CCS to store that CO2 underground) or “green” hydrogen, which would be produced using low carbon electricity, from wind farms etc. Currently there is almost no “green” hydrogen. There are claims that burning hydrogen at high altitude would not cause the emission of soot particles, so contrails might form less than conventional jet kerosene. It would certainly produce water vapour. The necessary atmospheric research studies probably have not been done, at scale. Hydrogen, like electric planes and wonderful zero carbon fuels, are the hopes of the sector – that their climate problem can be (improbably) solved. Meanwhile Airbus’ CEO announced it is in danger of collapse, due to Covid, and it needs to cut 15,000 jobs, or more than 11% of the group’s workforce.
Airbus looks to the future with hydrogen planes
21 September 2020 (BBC)
Aerospace giant Airbus has unveiled plans for what it hailed as the first commercial zero-emission aircraft.
The company said its hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes could be in service by 2035.
Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said the three ZEROe concept designs marked “a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector”.
The use of hydrogen had “the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact”, he added.
The concept of emissions-free aviation relies heavily on finding ways to produce large quantities of hydrogen from renewable or low-carbon sources.
Most large-scale production at the moment relies on fossil fuels, particularly methane, and is not considered to be low-carbon.
Analysts point out that it is not the first time that hydrogen has been touted as the saviour of modern air travel..
Its use in aviation goes back to the days of airships in the early 20th Century, but the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 brought that era to an end.
More recently, from 2000 to 2002, Airbus was involved in the EU-funded Cryoplane project, which studied the feasibility of a liquid hydrogen-fuelled aircraft.
After that, the idea fell out of favour again – until now.
Unveiling its latest blueprints, Airbus said its turbofan design could carry up to 200 passengers more than 2,000 miles, while a turboprop concept would have a 50% lower capacity and range.
A third, “blended-wing body” aircraft was the most eye-catching of the three designs.
All three planes would be powered by gas-turbine engines modified to burn liquid hydrogen, and through hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power.
However, Airbus admitted that for the idea to work, airports would have to invest large sums of money in refuelling infrastructure.
“The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem,” said Mr Faury.
“Together with the support from government and industrial partners, we can rise up to this challenge to scale up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”
The new Airbus designs are the fruit of a joint research project that Airbus launched with EasyJet last year to consider hybrid and electric aircraft.
The airline’s chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “EasyJet remains absolutely committed to more sustainable flying and we know that technology is where the answer lies for the industry.”
Airbus Continues Planning for Furloughs
Like nearly every other company in the industry, Airbus faces the prospect of major staffing cuts within its organization. While the group hopes to minimize involuntary cuts, a letter from CEO Guillaume Faury to Airbus’ 130,000 employees suggests that as many as 15,000 roles will be removed. An Airbus spokesperson confirmed that a letter was sent “to ensure transparency and share information with our global workforce,” but declined to comment on the contents of the message. French union officials accused Airbus of stirring up troubles in advance of additional negotiations scheduled in the coming weeks.
Airbus in danger of going under, says chief executive
By Robert Lea, Industrial Editor
Wednesday September 23 2020, The Times
Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer that employs and indirectly supports tens of thousands of jobs in British aerospace factories, is in danger of collapse, its chief executive said.
Speaking yesterday to the French media, Guillaume Faury said: “The crisis is existential. Our life as a business is potentially at risk if we don’t take the right measures.”
He added: “The situation is so serious, and we are faced with so much uncertainty, that I think no one can guarantee there won’t be compulsory redundancies if we’re to adapt to the situation, especially if it evolves further.”
Mr Faury said the shutdown of aviation markets meant that Airbus needed to cut a total of 15,000 jobs, or more than 11 per cent of the group’s workforce. In the UK Airbus said it needed to cut 1,700 jobs, 12 per cent of its 13,500-strong workforce, much of that in the group’s wing factory at Broughton in north Wales.
Many of those workers have spent the summer on the government’s furlough scheme. The knock-on effect has been felt at Rolls-Royce, an Airbus engine supplier, which is cutting thousands of jobs.
Compulsory redundancies would play very badly in France and Germany, where about 10,000 jobs will go, plus 900 in Spain and a further 1,300 around the world where Airbus has operations in the US and China.
The crisis has led to it halving production of the world’s bestselling short-haul aircraft, the A320, and the popular long-haul A350.
Mr Faury, 52, said that the issue was not that airlines were cancelling orders, but “airlines aren’t taking deliveries”.
Fossil fuel companies ‘misleading’ prime minister on green hydrogen
By Oliver Wright, Policy Editor (The Times)
September 24 2020
Boris Johnson is being misled by Britain’s multibillion-pound fossil fuel lobby into backing climate change policies that risk unnecessarily pushing up energy bills and undermining carbon targets, leading scientists warn today.
Over the last year dozens of energy supply firms, including Shell and BP, have joined forces to push the government to commit to hydrogen as the key element of its target for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050.
More than 60 MPs and peers have endorsed the industry’s case while the government has appointed the head of Shell in the UK as co-chairman of its hydrogen advisory council. Mr Johnson is reported to believe that hydrogen can be at the forefront of the government’s “green revolution”, heating homes and powering transport.
The campaign has led to warnings from independent energy experts that Downing Street is falling for “hype” and risks jeopardising the 2050 target while leaving consumers with a multibillion-pound bill to subsidise the changes.
In a letter to The Times today David Cebon, professor of engineering at Cambridge University, said that hydrogen was far from a silver bullet.
“Much scientific evidence shows that widespread adoption of hydrogen (instead of electricity) for heating and heavy vehicles would be detrimental to the UK’s economy, its energy security and its decarbonisation commitments,” he wrote. “Given that the fossil fuel industry’s preferred . . . solution would involve significantly increased natural gas consumption, it is not surprising that it is busy lobbying governments around the world for hydrogen.”
The industry is urging the government to utilise the natural gas distribution network to supply “green” hydrogen fuel to homes and businesses. At the same time, they are lobbying for hydrogen to be a key component of the transport network, particularly for buses and long distance freight lorries where electric battery technology is not practical at present.
Experts say, however, that creating truly green hydrogen fuel from water is an incredibly energy intensive and expensive process. They calculate that, using present technology, it would take an onshore wind farm covering 18,000 sq km to produce enough electricity to create green hydrogen to power all the UK’s long distance lorries.
In the interim, industry lobbyists argue that the UK could use “blue hydrogen” created from natural gas. This produces carbon dioxide, which supporters of hydrogen suggest could be captured and stored. Critics point out that carbon capture and storage has never been successfully deployed.
Hydrogen gas would also, at present rates, be about twice as expensive as natural gas, leading to higher bills for consumers or taxpayer subsidies.
Richard Lowes, a research fellow at Exeter University’s energy policy group, said he was “deeply concerned” that the government might commit to an unproven technology. He said he feared the push for hydrogen was “just a delaying tactic by the gas industry”.
A Shell spokesman said: “The UK will need to apply a wide range of technologies to deliver on its net-zero target of 2050, hydrogen included.”