Airbus is floating a new idea for hydrogen that it says could make electric aircraft much more efficient and therefore more viable. The company is looking at ways to use liquid hydrogen to cool superconducting components on the aircraft to greatly improve their ability to make power. “With the ASCEND demonstrator, we’ll pave the way for a real breakthrough in electric propulsion for future aircraft,” said spokesman Bour Schaeffer. “The importance of this work can’t be understated: cryogenic and superconducting technologies could be key enablers to enhancing the performance of low-emission technologies, which will be essential to achieving our ambitious decarbonisation targets.”
Liquid hydrogen exists at -263 degrees Celsius and at those temperatures certain metals lose virtually all of their electrical resistance, which is a major factor in the efficiency of electrical components. ASCEND intends to bathe the superconducting wires, connectors and motors in the super cold hydrogen. That will allow them to be two to three times smaller and lighter than regular components putting out the same power. Supercooling electrical components is a well-understood technology for earthbound applications and Airbus says it will adapt those methods for its airborne testbed.