Under its ZEROe zero-emissions program, the European airframer in 2020 revealed it is studying four hydrogen-powered aircraft concepts: three would use hydrogen combustion and hybrid engines for power, and the fourth would be fully electric, using hydrogen fuel cells and a propeller propulsion system.
Declaring today that “where there is an iron will there is a way”, Airbus chief technical officer Sabine Klauke revealed in a LinkedIn post that Airbus’ so-called iron pod — the future hydrogen-propulsion system designed for its electric concept aircraft — “was powered on at 1.2 megawatts at our E-Aircraft System House in Munich” at the end of 2023. “That’s enough energy to power 12 electric cars,” she noted.
Hydrogen fuel cells work by transforming the hydrogen into electricity through a chemical reaction. The by-product of the reaction is simple H2O, resulting in almost zero emissions, explained Airbus. And so, for its fully electric concept aircraft — a high-wing 100-seat regional airliner, featuring six eight-bladed propellers attached to engine pods — Airbus successfully completed testing of the fuel cell system at 1.2 megawatts in June 2023, followed by the powertrain at 1 megawatt in October.
But when the electric motors of the iron pod were powered on with the hydrogen fuel cells for the first time at the end of 2023, “it was a huge moment for us because the architecture and design principles of the system are the same as those that we will see in the final design,” said ZEROe head of testing and demonstration Mathias Andriamisaina in a statement. He said 1.2 megawatts is “the power we aim to test on our A380 demonstrator”.
Regarding those forthcoming A380 flight tests, Klauke revealed today: “The iron pod contains the hydrogen fuel cells and the electric engine powertrain that will power each of the concept aircraft’s propellers. Several of them will be needed to get an aircraft off the ground, and we are due to test one in flight on our A380 test platform in 2026.”
Leading up to this watershed moment, testing will continue on this first version of the iron pod throughout 2024, said Airbus.
“Once completed, the next step for the ZEROe team will be to optimise the size, mass and qualifications of the propulsion system to meet flight specifications. Qualifications include the system’s reactions to vibration, humidity and altitude, among other factors,” it added.
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