Airbus and Boeing will not be fuelling planes with hydrogen for perhaps 15 – 20 years

Airbus has said that most airliners will rely on traditional jet engines until at least 2050,  burning conventional fossil jet fuel.  Airbus says it plans to develop the world’s first “zero-emission” commercial aircraft by 2035, but not whether the technology will be ready for the replacement for the medium-haul A320, due to be produced in the 2030s. It is working on several concepts for a novel plane.  Until there is ample “green” hydrogen (no CO2 emitted in its production) any plane burning “blue” (or other types) hydrogen is not zero carbon. Airbus said that it if can produce planes that burn hydrogen, they will be regional and shorter-range aircraft – from 2035. It will be harder for long haul aircraft.  The technology of using hydrogen to fuel planes is still on the drawing board. The aviation industry is wanting public money from governments, to develop hydrogen or electric planes, or low carbon liquid fuels. If the industry had to pay all the costs themselves, the price of flights would go up, and thus demand would go down.  Not a profitable prospect for airlines. Boeing has also said that it will not be using hydrogen as fuel on a significant scale before 2050.

Airbus tells EU hydrogen won’t be widely used in planes before 2050

By Tim Hepher and Laurence Frost (Reuters)



Airbus sees traditional jet engines dominating to 2050
Presentation to EU casts doubt on hydrogen push
Boeing has also ruled out major hydrogen use before 2050

PARIS,  Most airliners will rely on traditional jet engines until at least 2050, Airbus (AIR.PA) told European Union officials in a briefing released on Thursday on its research into creating zero-emissions hydrogen fuelled planes.

The planemaker says it plans to develop the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035, but has not publicly said whether the technology will be ready for the replacement for the medium-haul A320, due to be rolled out in the 2030s.

February’s briefing to EU officials appeared to rule this out.

“Zero-emission hydrogen aircraft will be primarily focused on regional and shorter-range aircraft from 2035. Which means that current and future iterations of highly efficient gas turbines will still be required as we move towards 2050, especially for long-haul operations,” the presentation said.

It did not give any details on how the technology, which is still on the drawing board, would be introduced into the smaller planes. Airbus says it is still studying various concepts.

Slides from the presentation to the office of European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans were released by InfluenceMap, an investor-led climate lobbying watchdog which said it obtained them through a freedom of information request.

They were part of a wider set of documents issued by the watchdog, which said airlines and manufacturers had urged policymakers to use EU-backed green stimulus funds to support aviation. read more

Airbus declined detailed comment on the February meeting.

Although research remains at an early stage, possible paths to replacement of the A320 are already a major focus of debate as rival Boeing (BA.N) ponders how to shore up the competing 737 MAX and engine makers focus on evolving gas turbines.

Boeing (BA.N) Chief Executive Dave Calhoun last week ruled out using hydrogen on a significant scale before 2050.

Hydrogen has also taken centre-stage in talks over European government support for aviation during the COVID-19 crisis.

In June last year, France announced an increase in funding for the CORAC aviation research body including 1.5 billion euros over three years for technology such as hydrogen, rescuing 500 out of 15,000 jobs threatened by an Airbus restructuring.

In briefing notes, the finance ministry listed targets for investment including hydrogen as a primary energy source for a successor to the A320 that could enter service in 2033-2035.


Industry officials have played down the prospect of a switch to hydrogen for the A320 family’s replacement because of the aircraft’s size and range, and infrastructure needed globally. Airbus says an A320 takes off or lands every 1.6 seconds.

Airbus officials say the research will, in any event, seed disruptive technology likely to play a role in the next generation of airplanes.

Airbus engineering chief Jean-Brice Dumont told the French AJPAE media association on Thursday that hydrogen was one of several paths towards the decarbonisation of aviation and it was too early to say in what part of the market it would be used.

“We are potentially slicing up the market in a different way but it is far too early to talk about it,” he said.

As an interim step, Airbus and others have called for more use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) in existing planes. Airbus said on Thursday it would test-fly an A320 with 100% SAF by the end of this year. Current regulations allow a 50% mix.

In February’s presentation, Airbus displayed industry forecasts suggesting the A320’s medium-haul category of 150-250 seats would be powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) first, and “potentially some hydrogen” from 2050.

A smaller niche between 100-150 seats, which includes its A220 and Embraer (EMBR3.SA) E2, would use electric power, hydrogen and/or SAF from 2040, while only regional 50-100 seaters would be ready for hydrogen in the 2030s.

Airbus currently serves that market through its 50-70-seat ATR turboprop co-venture with Italy’s Leonardo (LDOF.MI).

In September last year, Airbus presented three concepts for a hydrogen plane to enter service in 2035 including a turboprop, a traditional-looking twin-engined plane powered by hybrid-hydrogen engines and a more radical blended-wing body aircraft.

Airbus has said it will choose the final product for a new decarbonised plane in 2025. The briefing said it would also narrow down the choice of concept as early as mid-2022.

Reporting by Tim Hepher and Laurence Frost Editing by Mark Potter


See earlier:

Unless hydrogen is “green” hydrogen, or all CO2 produced is genuinely stored for ever, it is not a low carbon fuel

The DfT is pushing the idea of planes fuelled partly by hydrogen, as part of its “Jet Zero” strategy – hoping to find ways in which people can continue to fly, without huge carbon emissions that make reaching the UK target of net zero impossible. However, the Government’s “Jet Zero Council” said, at the end of June, that government was launching “the first round of £3 million Zero Emission Flight Infrastructure (ZEFI) competition, supporting development of infrastructure required to aid electric and hydrogen aircraft such as charge points for planes.” Hydrogen can be produced in various ways, most using a fossil fuel and producing CO2 in the process. The hydrogen could only be a “low carbon” fuel if all this CO2 is captured and stored, for ever – not just reused (which is what usually happens at present.) Now a study by academics at Cornell and Stanford universities in the US, warned that blue hydrogen (produced by ‘steam reforming’, needing carbon capture and storage for the CO2 created) could be up to 20% worse for the climate than fossil gas owing to the emissions that escape during its production, multiplied by the amount of gas required to make the equivalent amount of energy from hydrogen.

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