Development Of Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft By Aerodelft And Airbus

Development Of Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft By Aerodelft And Airbus
Courtesy AeroDelft

Founded by students at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, AeroDelft aims to build hydrogen-powered aircraft in partnership with Airbus.

The student team at AeroDelft plans to develop a hydrogen-powered, fixed-wing aircraft called Phoenix by 2025 in collaboration with Airbus. Remotely piloted Phoenix prototypes, 1:3 scale models of the aircraft powered by electric batteries, have already been built and flown by the team. Currently, the company is working on the Phoenix Full Scale, a crewed, two-seat aircraft powered by liquid hydrogen.


Meanwhile, Airbus is developing its own hydrogen propulsion system. ZeroE, a hydrogen-powered, zero-emission commercial airliner that aims to reach the market in 2035, is being developed by a European aerospace company. Each of the ZeroE concepts is a hybrid-hydrogen aircraft powered by hydrogen combustion through modified gas turbine engines, fueled by liquid hydrogen (LH2).

AeroDelft's chief of partnerships, Joseph Michaels, told FutureFlight that the biggest obstacles are related to the LH2 system, which is by far the most experimental component of the aircraft. The LH2 and fuel cell combination has never been used in a manned aircraft before. This means that development and testing of these systems are in the interest of the whole industry."

Initially, AeroDelft plans to use hydrogen gas instead of liquid hydrogen in order to develop a piloted, liquid hydrogen-powered Phoenix Full Scale aircraft by 2025. For now, the Phoenix PT prototype is still undergoing battery-electric flights. Uncrewed prototypes will fly for the first time in 2023 using hydrogen gas. Using hydrogen gas, the full-scale version of the aircraft will be flown in 2024 with a pilot aboard. It is expected that full-size flights using liquid hydrogen will begin in 2025.

The hydrogen propulsion system for ZeroE has also been developed by Airbus in collaboration with aircraft engine group CFM International, and Delta Air Lines, EasyJet, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, and Air New Zealand have signed agreements with the company to study the infrastructure needs for future hydrogen-powered aircraft. Using a converted A380 widebody airliner, ZeroE will test hydrogen combustion technology on its first hydrogen-powered aircraft.

"We are committed to making climate-neutral aviation a reality, and hydrogen offers a very promising avenue for doing so," said Rob Postma, CEO of Airbus Netherlands. As AeroDelft has accomplished so far, we need to join forces with everyone willing to put their brain and energy into the biggest challenge our aviation industry faces: zero-emission flight."

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