Airbus Will Test Hydrogen Fuel Cell Engines on the First A380

Airbus Will Test Hydrogen Fuel Cell Engines on the First A380

An image of the Airbus fuel cell prototype engine.

Coming to a plane near you. Image: Airbus

While the car world has reluctantly happily chosen battery power as the future of movement, other areas of transportation are still considering the best ways to go emission-free. But, after the news this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking that hydrogen has been picked as the future of aviation.

After Rolls-Royce announced it was testing out hydrogen-powered jets that could one day power regional aircraft, Airbus decided it wanted to hop on the hydrogen hype train as well. The European plane maker will soon start testing a hydrogen fuel cell-powered engine that could power plans of the future.

Airbus announced this week that it will begin ground and air testing of its new fuel cell engine architecture, which could be used to power zero-emission aircraft by 2035. With its new hydrogen-fueled architecture, Airbus is targeting a range of 1,000 nautical miles and capacity to power a plane that can fit “one hundred passengers.”

A render showing the inner workings of a hydrogen fuel cel plane engine.

The hydrogen fuel cel will generate electricity to power a motor. Image: Airbus

The fuel cells will convert hydrogen into electricity in order to power a propeller engine. Airbus added that a hydrogen gas turbine could also be added to the system to create a hybrid-electric architecture.

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“Fuel cells are a potential solution to help us achieve our zero-emission ambition and we are focused on developing and testing this technology to understand if it is feasible and viable for a 2035 entry-into-service of a zero-emission aircraft,” said Glenn Llewellyn, vice president of zero-emission aircraft at Airbus.

“By continuing to invest in this technology we are giving ourselves additional options that will inform our decisions on the architecture of our future ZEROe aircraft, the development of which we intend to launch in the 2027-2028 timeframe.”

A render of an Airbus A380 fitted with an extra test engine.

The A380 has elevated from passenger jet to flying laboratory. Image: Airbus

Airbus will soon begin testing the new power plant on modified A380 super jumbo. The aircraft, which went out of production last year and has slowly been retired by many global airlines, will begin its new life as an airborne lab for Airbus.

The European plane maker will transform the first A380 to ever roll off the production line into a test bed for future power plants. To do this, the plane is currently being outfitted with hydrogen tanks in its rear quarter and mounts that can hold prototype engines.