Airbus Achieves Milestone in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Development for Zero-Emission Aircraft
A key component of Airbus’s proposed zero-emissions hydrogen aircraft just aced a major test, bolstering the European aerospace giant’s aim for hydrogen flight by 2035.
Dubbed the “iron pod”, the hydrogen fuel cell recently powered up to 1.2 megawatts – enough for aviation propulsion. Integrated alongside electric motors and controls, the pod converts clean hydrogen fuel into the electricity needed to spin aircraft propellers.
“Achieving this powerful output marks a real milestone for us,” said Hauke Peer-Luedders, who heads the fuel cell program.
It hasn’t been easy. When Airbus first unveiled renderings of potential hydrogen planes in 2020, fuel cells with sufficient oomph for commercial flight didn’t actually exist yet.
So Airbus launched a joint venture called Aerostack to custom-build high-output stacks. Extensive trials started churning at a dedicated test facility near Munich, pushing components to their limits.
Now with the iron pod’s recent success, integration with the full electric propulsion system is next. More refinements for weight, vibration, and qualify will optimize it for real runway demands.
The pod will then get embedded into a retired A380 testbed jet. After exhaustive ground trials, the massive aircraft turned flying laboratory will take to the skies in 2026 to trial the systems inflight.
It’s a crucial phase, with learnings guiding the commercial hydrogen planes to come.
“We test power levels needed for different flight phases to see how the systems interact,” Peer-Luedders explained. Takeoff demands maximum thrust, while lengthy cruising stretches fuel efficiency.
If all goes to plan, a pioneering hydrogen passenger plane could enter service by 2035, bringing zero-emission travel to the masses.
But first comes years of incremental testing anchored by the iron pod. “This gets us one step closer,” said an optimistic Peer-Luedders.