Traveling by plane is heading towards a snail-like decarbonization across the double-sided lane, but the pace could increase as Airbus follows its plan to develop hydrogen hubs at airports around the world. Not so long ago, that would have involved a huge amount of fossil energy. However, Airbus has just signed an agreement with global industrial gas company Linde to help carry out its plan, and Linde has plans to launch a green hydrogen supply chain.
Not exactly green hydrogen for the airport of the future
As for decarbonization from soup to nuts, the deal with Linde could mean several different things for Airbus ’global hydrogen hub plan, which the aircraft maker launched back in 2020.
Hydrogen is not a fuel with 100% clean combustion because nitrogen oxides are part of the emission package. Hydrogen, on the other hand, emits only traces of carbon dioxide when burned. Also, when hydrogen is used in fuel cells to produce electricity, there are no emissions to air at all. Water is the only by-product.
The problem is that the modern global economy is working on hydrogen, which is mainly obtained through steam reform, with natural gas as the primary raw material. Coal and recovered industrial by-products are also part of the picture.
Legacy firms like Linde have a solid hydrogen footprint from fossil sources, but they are also starting to respond to customer demand for more sustainable sources. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions in a growing number of jurisdictions around the world is also having an impact. In addition to its conventional hydrogen business, Linde also offers a hydrogen product certified as 40% less carbon-intensive than the conventional steam method, using waste gases and other alternative raw materials.
Demand for green hydrogen is growing
None of this sounds particularly attractive from a conservation standpoint, but Airbus is one of those customers looking for a more sustainable source of hydrogen, focusing on green hydrogen from renewable sources, giving suppliers like Linde an increasing incentive to seek a more sustainable source.
“Hydrogen is a high-potential technology with a specific energy per unit mass three times larger than traditional jet fuel. If it is produced from renewable energy through electrolysis, it does not emit CO2 emissions, which allows renewable energy to potentially power large aircraft over long distances, but without the undesirable by-product of CO2 emissions, ”they are delighted at Airbus (emphasize yours).
Airbus is currently considering hydrogen twice in aircraft. Used as is, hydrogen could be used as a flammable fuel in modified gas turbines, or could be used to produce electricity in fuel cells.
Another way is to use hydrogen as a raw material to produce new fuels, with carbon dioxide and help from renewable energy. It belongs to a new category of electric fuels, which are low, but not without emissions. As with biofuels, the idea is to recycle carbon instead of extracting buried carbon from the Earth.
More and greener hydrogen on the way
Airbus expects to make a decision by 2025. In any case, the company expects green hydrogen to play a significant role in its hydrogen journey, and Linde seems to be gearing up for a spot in the front row.
In January 2021, Linde announced that it would build a 24-megawatt electrolyzer at the spacious Leuna Chemical Complex in Germany. Announced as the largest of its kind at the time, the plant will provide green hydrogen to industrial customers through Linde’s existing pipelines. The company has also announced plans to distribute liquid green hydrogen in the region.
Linde is obviously on his way to starting the wheels in Leuna sometime this year. Meanwhile, he does not allow the green hydrogen grass to grow under his feet. In January this year, the company announced plans for another 24-megawatt electrolyzer plant at Herøya Industripark in Porsgrunn, Norway, to supply hydrogen to Yara’s ammonia plant. The idea is to demonstrate green hydrogen as a decarbonization driver for the fertilizer industry and the maritime transport industry, two areas of immediate interest to Yara.
What is this hydrogen hub you are talking about?
As for Linde’s role in the Airbus H2 hub plan, last week the two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding covering airports around the world, including a series of pilot projects to begin next year. The two companies will also work together to assess electro-fuels.
Currently, airports in France, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have signed the hub concept, which initially aimed to integrate hydrogen into ground operations.
In support of that plan, Airbus last week signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the International Council on Airports in Europe, aimed at improving. “cooperation in the field of new aircraft energy ecosystems. “
“The common goal is to enable the wider use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and to develop the hydrogen ecosystem needed for zero-emission aircraft technologies, the preparation of ancillary airport infrastructure and their introduction to the market,” explains Airbus.
Emission-free aircraft of the future
If all goes according to plan, the new hydrogen hubs will also serve Airbus ’new hydrogen-powered planes. The company unveiled its first ZEROe concept in 2020, showcasing hydrogen as “an option that Airbus believes has a remarkable promise as a pure aircraft fuel and is likely to be a solution for space and many other industries to meet their climate-neutral targets. ”
Now would be the right time to bet on the winning concept:
“Turbofan design (120-200 passengers) with a range of 2,000+ nautical miles, capable of transcontinental operation and powered by a modified hydrogen-powered gas turbine engine”
“Turboprop design (up to 100 passengers) that uses a turboprop engine instead of a turbofan engine and also drives the combustion of hydrogen in modified gas turbine engines, which could travel more than 1,000 nautical miles”
“Combined body design concept (up to 200 passengers) in which the wings are joined to the main body of the aircraft with a range similar to that of the turbofan concept.”
If you are wondering if there is a battery-powered electric plane in the future of Airbus, that is a good question. Airbus seems to be counting on hydrogen for extended flights, but has also struggled for intercity and regional travel thinking of its CityAirbus NextGen electric plane for vertical takeoff and landing.
Last week was definitely a busy week for Airbus. The company has also announced a new contract with Munich Airport to provide ground infrastructure and other support services for CityAirbus, which resembles a helicopter with fixed wings and a V-shaped tail instead of a rotor mounted on top.
Airbus has gradually shared responsibility for the development of parts of CityAirbus, most recently KLM Motorsports for the tail and MAGicALL for the electric motors. For now, there is no word on the battery, except that they seem to be announcing that the latest generation of lithium-ion batteries will be up to the task.
Hydrogen-powered planes and battery-powered planes of any significant size are still years in the coming years, although both are advancing. United Airlines, for example, is investing in the idea of battery-powered short trips. It is also among the latest to join the trend of flying with fuel cells, in collaboration with the upcoming company ZeroAvia for aircraft with hydrogen fuel cells. The U.S. Navy is also observing a solar-powered fuel cell spacecraft that could fly virtually forever without refueling.
Meanwhile, Airbus, like other stakeholders in the aviation industry, relies on SAF on a biological basis to fill the gap. The company is already certified to fly on a blend of 50% bio-based SAF and 50% kerosene, and last year began testing 100% SAF from used edible oil and other waste fats.
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Picture: ZERO aircraft concept thanks to Airbus.
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