The world's first zero-emission commercial aircraft is taking shape. Airbus has now presented three design drafts to achieve this. Hydrogen used as an energy source plays a key role in it. In order for the energy transition in aviation to succeed, efforts by society as a whole are now necessary.
Aviation is coming one step closer to climate-neutral flying. Airbus has presented three concepts for the world's first zero-emission commercial aircraft, to be brought into service in 2035. Each concept contains its own technical approach to climate-neutral flying, whereby different technologies and aerodynamic configurations are examined. In the long term, this should enable a shift away from fossil fuels in order to boost the long-term decarbonisation of the aeronautical industry.
The turboprop design uses modified gas turbines.
Hydrogen as an important energy carrier
In all three cases, hydrogen serves as the primary energy carrier. This can be used as the basis for synthetic fuels and – as in the case of the concepts presented – as the main energy carrier, e.g. in the direct combustion for commercial aircraft. Hydrogen is suitable not only in the aerospace industry as an environmentally-friendly fuel, given that aeronautics has no alternatives to climate-neutrality for the foreseeable future, in comparison to other modes of transport.
Three ways to achieve this goal
Under the term "ZEROe", three concepts for the first climate-neutral and emission-free commercial aircraft are being developed. These enable the intensive research of various technologies and to work on the design and layout of the first zero-emission commercial aircraft worldwide.
Energy transition in aviation
The establishment of hydrogen as a primary energy carrier requires decisive action by all parties involved. Climate-neutral flying is a task for the whole of society. Only in close cooperation with politics, science and industrial partners will the energy transition in aviation be successful.
Incentives must therefore now be created to encourage the market take-off of hydrogen. The development and provision of an infrastructure, from the cost-effective industrial production of liquid hydrogen on the basis of renewable energies, to transport and including the establishment of hydrogen hubs at airports, is one of the greatest challenges from today's perspective.
Status: Sept 2020
Climate change has noticeable impacts on the lives of many people. The utilisation of drones and satellite data has an important role to play to better understand changes in the climate and to find innovative solutions to this problem.
Strengthening farming despite climate change
Weather phenomena and rainfall patterns are fundamentally changing in many parts of the world. Agriculture is facing existential problems: absent or overdue rainfall, persistent drought, flooding and heat waves. Modern agriculture must stringently plan planting and harvesting seasons based on these changing patterns. Data procured form space and from unmanned aircraft can help. Examples of this are the services Verde and AgNeo. They deliver data from space to make weather predictions and crop production more precise. This makes farming more efficient and, at the same time, more sustainable.
Patrolling the oceans with data from space
The competition for valuable resources in international waters is increasing. This results in significant overfishing of the seas. In order to secure a sustainable and fair use of the oceans, observation and control of vulnerable locations are of vital importance. The Ocean Finder Programme plays a key role in this mission. This programme uses satellite images to follow ships, to recognise illicit activity and to prepare maritime missions. This results in safer and more sustainable seas.
Avoiding deforestation from space
Deforestation accounts for 10% of global CO2 emissions. Often, the observation of forests is complicated and the difference between reforestation and deforestation is difficult to determine. This is changing thanks to the innovative satellite service Starling, which delivers high-definition images of forests taken from space, all year long. These images enable precise observation and decided counteraction against deforestation.
Climate change is changing the world. Innovative solutions help to overcome these effects. Data from above play a central role—whether that data comes from space or from unmanned aircraft. This guarantees the prosperity and security of the modern world.
Status: February 2020
Recently there have been reports that aircraft have occasionally dumped kerosene before landing. There is no such dumping of fuel in regular flight operations.
Fuel dumping is subject to a mandatory internationally recognised standard procedure to be used exclusively for air traffic safety. This procedure is only used in rare emergency situations. According to the German Aviation Association (BDL), this happened on average only 21 times a year between 2010 and 2019, so it is extremely rare.
The need for this measure may arise from the fact that the take-off weight of large passenger aircraft may exceed the maximum permissible landing weight, depending on the amount of fuel used. If this difference between the maximum take-off weight and the maximum permissible landing weight is particularly large, the aircraft must be able to dump fuel for safety reasons. Therefore, only long range aircraft such as the A350 or A380 have a fuel dump mechanism. For smaller aircraft, such as those in the A320 family, this is not necessary because they are lighter. When designing these systems, the aircraft manufacturers strictly abide by the requirements from certification authorities such as EASA in Europe.
Dumping means that an aircraft can land safely during a medical emergency, for example, where every second counts. Other factors also play a role in the decision to land, such as aircraft design, runway length and current weather conditions. As a general rule, no aircraft operator gains from dumping valuable fuel for no reason and without there being an emergency. Such a measure would not be cost effective either.
The implementation of such an emergency measure is done in consultation with the air traffic control unit in charge, such as German Air Traffic Control (DFS), and only at a minimum flight altitude in an airspace with low air traffic density over uninhabited areas. In addition, the amount of kerosene dumped is strictly limited.
Further information can be found on the German website of the BDL: https://www.bdl.aero/de/veroffentlichungen/luftfahrt-aktuell/luftfahrt-aktuell-15/#
Status: Sept 2018