Airbus has achieved power-on for its first hydrogen fuel-cell engine, as it progresses towards A380 test flights of the propulsion system in two years’ time.

The airframer says its experimental ‘iron pod’ – which includes the fuel-cell system as well as cooling units and electric motors to drive a propeller – was powered on late last year.

Airbus is developing the propulsion system under its ZEROe programme, which intends to put a zero-emission hydrogen-powered aircraft into service in the mid-2030s.

“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,” says ZEROe head of testing and demonstration Mathias Andriamisaina.

The test engine will be installed on an A380 for ground-testing and eventual flight-testing in 2026.

ZEROe propeller concept-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Airbus has drawn up several concept aircraft for its ZEROe hydrogen-propulsion programme

Airbus says the power-on at 1.2MW is a “pivotal step” for the ZEROe programme, for which it has drawn up a number of aircraft concepts – including models which would use either hydrogen combustion or hydrogen fuel-cells.

“Although hydrogen fuel cells already existed on the market when the project began, none provided the energy needed to power an aircraft while remaining at an acceptable weight level,” says the airframer, a situation which prompted it to set up joint-venture Aerostack to develop hydrogen fuel-cell stacks.

Tests on the fuel-cell system in Ottobrunn last year showed it could reach its full 1.2MW power level, allowing the project to advance by integrating the propulsion system with the electric motor.

Airbus says the electric motors of the initial ‘iron pod’ have been powered-on with the fuel cells for the first time. Tests will continue over the course of this year, before the system’s size and weight are optimised for flight.

“This process is how we learn what changes need to be made to make the technology flightworthy,” says ZEROe head of fuel-cell propulsion Hauke Peer-Luedders.

“We measure how the propulsion system as a whole works by testing the power needed for several different flight phases – such as take-off, where we are reaching maximum power levels, and cruising, when we use less power but over a longer period of time.”