Airbus is aiming to put the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial plane into service by 2035, the European aircraft maker’s boss said in remarks published Monday.
Hydrogen is a clean fuel, emitting only steam, but whether it is green depends on the carbon footprint of the fuels used to produce it.
France and other European countries are investing billions of euros in the development of green hydrogen, with the highly polluting transport industry a prime area for its intended use.
“It is our ambition to become the first aircraft maker to enter such a plane into service in 2035,” Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury told Le Parisien newspaper.
The development of decarbonised hydrogen fuel is a “priority axis of development” for Airbus, he said.
The manufacturer has already been using hydrogen technology to power its satellites and the Ariane rocket.
Developing an aircraft that uses carbon-free fuel would not require “any major technological breakthrough”, Faury said.
The production technology would, however, still need around five years to reach maturity, and suppliers and industrial sites would need another two to be ready, he said.
“We could therefore implement the programme around 2028,” he said.
Aviation generates up to three percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.
Hydrogen use would require some major design changes for aircraft, as the fuel requires about four times the storage space of kerosene for the same energy content.
The French government has earmarked 1.5 billion euros ($1.75 billion) for the development of carbon-free aircraft as part of a support plan for the aviation sector, which has been brought to its knees by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, France is planning to invest seven billion euros in the development of hydrogen solutions, with neighbouring Germany setting aside nine billion.