From my point of view, as the CEO of an aerospace company, I’ve seen a growing willingness to explore the potential of hydrogen as a possible aviation fuel of the future. That’s why we, at Airbus, decided to join the Hydrogen Council.
We’re stepping up our efforts to develop the next generation of cleaner aviation technology, in line with the commercial aviation industry’s commitment to halve emissions from commercial aviation by 2050 on 2005 levels. We’re researching hydrogen, hybrid-electric engines and synthetic aviation fuels as alternatives to today’s hydrocarbon fuels. It’s not yet clear which will emerge as the most technically and commercially feasible long-term options for commercial aircraft – or in what combination – but hydrogen certainly holds much promise.
Airbus’s involvement is at an early stage, but it is certainly proving beneficial to be part of a cross-sectoral approach to hydrogen development. Such a collective approach will be crucial to realizing hydrogen’s potential in the decades ahead.
In the aerospace industry, the overwhelming priority is always safety, for understandable reasons. So, the major challenge for hydrogen will be the same as for any technology in the aviation industry: can the regulatory authorities be satisfied that hydrogen-powered aircraft will be safe to fly passengers? The cost of producing hydrogen will be another factor in determining its commercial viability. So it’s clear that many years of innovation and investment lie ahead. That’s why it’s so important that we accelerate our efforts today.
The success of hydrogen fuel cells in powering cars and buses has shown its advantages as a low-emissions fuel. Hydrogen fuel-cell engines have also been shown to be remarkably efficient. For aerospace manufacturers, another proven attraction of hydrogen in the transport sector is its quietness. Noise is a controversial issue in the commercial aviation industry, so we try to make aircraft as quiet as possible. All of this should trigger bigger investment into the research and development of hydrogen in the transport sector.
Less a misconception than a lack of awareness: until recently, hydrogen hasn’t perhaps attracted quite the level of attention or focus of some alternative fuels. That’s despite its use in powering not only buses and cars, but also spacecraft. But that is now starting to change as the understanding of hydrogen’s potential increases.