Airbus Debuts Plan for Hydrogen-powered Zero Emissions Plane

Airbus' AirbusZEROe plane

Airbus hopes to bring the world’s first zero-emission aircraft — powered by a hydrogen propulsion system — into commercial service by 2035.

“As recently as five years ago, hydrogen propulsion wasn’t even on our radar as a viable emission-reduction technology pathway,” Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus’s VP of Zero-Emission Aircraft, said in a statement on Monday. “But convincing data from other transport industries quickly changed all that. Today, we’re excited by the incredible potential hydrogen offers aviation in terms of disruptive emissions reduction.”

The manufacturer is also working on a concept aircraft called the ZEROe, which could reduce aircraft emissions by up to 50 percent. The ZEROe planes are hydrogen hybrid aircraft that use both liquid hydrogen fuel and a gas turbine, “resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system,” according to the manufacturer.

In order to get the zero-emission aircraft into the air by 2035, Airbus hopes to launch its hybrid ZEROe aircraft program by 2025.

Over the coming months, Airbus engineers will launch several hydrogen demonstrator programs, hoping to perfect hydrogen propulsion. And by the late 2020s, Airbus hopes to have a full-scale aircraft prototype. But it will take a few years to decide what the plane will look like.

The three different iterations of the concept plane currently up for consideration include a turbofan (which most closely resembles common commercial aircraft today), a turboprop plane, and a blended-wing body, that looks like a flying manta ray.

“The ZEROe will be the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft,” says Jean-Brice. “As an engineer, I can’t think of working on anything more exciting than that.”

The global aviation industry is responsible for about two percent of the world’s carbon emissions and 12 percent of all emissions from transportation in general, according to Air Transport Action Group. The industry has also committed to halving its 2005 carbon emissions levels by 2050, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. When in a new city, she's usually out to discover under-the-radar art, culture, and secondhand stores. No matter her location, you can find her on Twitter, on Instagram or at caileyrizzo.com.

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