Airbus CEO Envisions Hydrogen Power As The Long-Term Solution For Aviation

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Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury supports sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in the short term, but sees hydrogen-powered aircraft as the likely long-term solution to decarbonizing aviation. The Airbus leader told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, “SAF is the short-term solution, and for long-haul flights probably the long-term one, and it’s compatible with today’s aircraft technology. But I also believe that hydrogen is the long-term solution to our net zero goal and that we need to start now.”

Faury said the company’s first hydrogen airplane is likely to be a regional jet, but also acknowledged that the transition to aviation’s next source of energy will not be a quick one. “Hydrogen won’t deliver a great contribution to CO2 reductions in the year 2050,” he told the paper, “but there will be a time after that.”

Airbus joined utility provider Uniper, energy tech company Siemens Energy and chemicals firm Sasol ecoFT in last month’s announcement of a feasibility study on producing SAFs based on green hydrogen made from renewable energy under the “Green Fuels for Hamburg” initiative.

Faury doesn’t expect the transition to hydrogen to be an economically easy one. He accepts that producing decarbonized aviation fuel at first will “cost a lot of energy and be expensive.” But the Airbus CEO also said aviation would “potentially face significant hurdles if we don’t manage to decarbonize at the right pace.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. H2 has a lot of downsides. IMHO a better idea to produce hydrocarbon or similar room-temp, unpressurized fuels largely compatible with or similar to existing infrastructure. There is a lot of energy required to produce either, but H2 has a lot of practical problems.

    • This is the absolute best method. Why throw the infrastructure from over 100 years of development away?

      And all these folks who say hydrogen is the way have never had to deal with Hydrogen Embrittlement. The replacement cost of throwing your storage and delivery system away every 15-20 years or so is not an infrastructure bell ringer!

  2. So other than faster refueling than a battery charger what is the advantage in terms of climate warming? Considering that the “combustion” bi-product is H2O which is a far more effective greenhouse gas than CO2 ever was.

    • FYI, Ian – This came through from Airbus at the Farnborough Air Show about an hour ago. Bear with the British spellings (though with your first name, perhaps that might make you feel right at home?):

      “Contrail characterisation is of significant interest to Airbus. We know that hydrogen emits no carbon dioxide when burned, but we also know that with water vapour and heat being the most significant by-products, hydrogen combustion does produce contrails. Although these contrails differ significantly to those produced by conventional JetA/A1 combustion engines, understanding their composition will be key to support our decarbonisation journey,” said Sandra Bour Schaeffer, CEO of Airbus UpNext. “In taking up this challenge we are making significant headway in our decarbonisation strategy and our ambition to bring the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft into service by 2035.”

    • If we are going to go all psycho about water vapor now then we’ve just totally lost it. It actually solves the real problem which is lack of clouds and rain. Think Sahara, Australia, The desert Southwest of the US. We could have a greener planet if we did something clever to increase ocean evaporation. Taxing people will work about as well as a good rain-dance.

      • Then you support carbon emissions to create more greenhouse gases, to increase planetary temperature to increase evaporation from the oceans. Which means more clouds, which mean more warming. Bring the Venus climate to Earth.

  3. At note to the CEO of Airbus, Less than 2 years ago the president of a then mostly prosperous Sri Lanka announced that switching to organic agricultural production was the way of the future and ordered the change. The country is now in total shambles mostly due to his decision to switch for conventional products and materials to “the way of the future”, based upon bad advice from eco-freaks. Don’t drink the same cool-aid.

  4. Hydrogen is a good fuel, but it is not a panacea for their so-called “zero emission” concept of aviation. Aside from the obvious problem of generating millions of gallons of hydrogen a day to fuel the aircraft, what comes out the exhaust pipe is still a greenhouse gas. Whether or not it creates a visible contrail, the water vapor is still there and will trap infrared heat. You can’t see carbon dioxide in the air either, but it is obviously floating around in the jet exhaust. Just because you have de-carbonized the fuel does not mean it is “zero emission” or won’t contribute to global warming. Oh, and other commenters are correct: Unless you find a much more efficient way to generate the hydrogen, it does require more energy to produce than you get back when you burn it. Once again in chemistry, there ain’t no free lunch!

  5. Hey, AvWeb! This seems to be a controversial subject–how about a poll asking for reader’s opinion on Hydrogen fuels? Some suggested options:

    “I love it, and can’t wait to fly with it in my _________aircraft!”

    “It might be POSSIBLE to create a hydrogen powered aircraft–but is it competitive in price”

    “I believe it maybe possible to create Hydrogen powered large/small aircraft (pick one) but not for the other.”

    “Another aviation pipe dream–not gonna happen!”

    “Not going to happen–the infrastructure for handling all that aviation fuel would have to not only be mandated, but subsidized by the government–and foreign carriers aren’t likely to sign on to it.”

    “The FAA can’t even certify a replacement for AvGas after all these years–let alone an entirely new fuel.”

    “Somehow, I can’t imagine people boarding an aircraft that is powered by the same thing that brought down the Hindenberg!

    “We will develop teleportation (“Beam me up, Scottie!”) before this dream comes to pass!”

    “I don’t know, but I want some of whatever the dreamers of this proposal are smoking!”