Airbus Prepares for First Megawatt-class Hydrogen Fuel-cell Engine Flight-test

Two years ago, Airbus unveiled several possible aircraft concepts – known collectively as “ZEROe” – which are helping to define the world’s first zero-emission commercial airliner which could enter service by 2035.

While these concepts explore various size categories, aerodynamic layouts and propulsion system architectures, they all have one thing in common, they are hydrogen-fuelled.

Three of them have engines which use hydrogen combustion to drive their gas turbines – similar to the way that turbofans and turboprops burn kerosene today, but without the latter’s CO2 and particulate emissions.

First announced publicly on 30th November this year at the Airbus Summit, the demonstrator will use Airbus’ multi-modal flight test platform – the iconic A380 MSN001.

The aircraft will be modified externally to carry the fuel-cell engine pod, while inside the aircraft’s rear fuselage Airbus will install a unique cryogenic tank to contain the liquefied hydrogen.

For this proof-of-concept demonstrator, liquid hydrogen from the cryogenic tank is converted into a gaseous state. It is then distributed to the fuel cell via supply lines running from the tank and through an external ‘stub’ aerodynamic and load-bearing support structure to the engine pylon interface.

From there the gaseous hydrogen enters the fuel cell inside the pod, where dioxygen (O2) molecules are also supplied by a controlled flow of air – taken from the surrounding atmosphere. The resulting reaction inside the fuel cell produces direct electrical current (DC) which is subsequently converted into alternating current (AC) by the means of inverters.

Electric motors near the front of the pod then convert the electrical power into mechanical power by communicating torque to a reduction gearbox.

At the end of the propulsion chain the propeller provides the thrust. The thermal energy generated by the fuel cell needs to be conveyed by a liquid cooling system to heat exchangers where it is dissipated into the ambient air. Water is also produced as a byproduct of the electrochemical reaction which is expelled from an outlet at the back of the pod.

For the aircraft manufacturer the A380 was the obvious choice as ‘host’ for the hydrogen fuel-cell engine demonstrator. “It has plenty of space internally – so there are no constraints in terms of accommodating everything we need, as well as the ability to test multiple configurations,” said Mathias Andriamisaina, Head of ZEROe Demonstrators and Tests at Airbus.

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