Airbus is aiming to advance the use of superconducting technology for propulsion in a future hydrogen-powered aircraft through a new demonstrator.

The Cryoprop demonstrator will feature a superconducting 2MW electric propulsion system cooled by liquid hydrogen using recirculation of helium.

Airbus has already been exploring superconducting technology with its 500kW ASCEND powertrain demonstrator, which achieved power-on in November last year.

While conventional electric powertrains require high voltages, this could be reduced by using superconducting materials – such as cryogenically-frozen tape rather than copper – to transmit electric power from a fuel source to the propulsion system.

These superconductivity conditions, says Airbus, could be created using the same cryogenic processes which would maintain the low temperatures of the liquid hydrogen being used to generate power through fuel cells.

Cryoprop demonstrator-c-Airbus UpNext

Source: Airbus UpNext

Liquid hydrogen would feed engine fuel cells while also cooling helium to support superconductivity

Under the Cryoprop architecture, liquid hydrogen carried in a tank on board the aircraft would be distributed to the fuel cell in the engine, while simultaneously being used to cool helium. The helium would circulate to cool the superconducting electrical transmission system and motor control unit.

Airbus’s innovation arm UpNext intends Cryoprop to confirm the potential of superconducting technology for future aircraft development, and offer the opportunity to examine various aspects – and develop specialist knowledge – relating to industrialisation, maintenance, and operations.

Launch of the Cryoprop project-c-Airbus UpNext

Source: Airbus UpNext

Cryoprop will feature a helium-cooled 2MW powertrain

UpNext chief Michael Augello says Cryoprop will “lead to performance improvements” in the propulsion system, including “significant” potential weight and fuel savings.

This is critical for the development of larger, longer-range aircraft whose power demands might otherwise be prohibitive given the weight of, and heat generated by, regular electrical transmission systems.

“Our previous demonstrators have shown that superconducting technologies would be a key enabler for the high-power electrification of future hydrogen-powered aircraft,” Aguello adds.