Airbus is dusting off the concept of the hydrogen-fuelled aircraft in its bid to develop a zero carbon-emissions aircraft of the future.

Christine Bickerstaff, powerplant systems engineering at Airbus UK, told delegates at last week's Royal Aeronautical Society conference on aviation and the environment: "Airbus is utterly convinced that it has to deal with the growth in air transport...We are reassessing everything. She adds that the Cryoplane was previously unviable, but is being reviewed.

The airframer's efforts will no doubt revisit the European Union-funded Cryoplane project, a European consortium of 35 partners led by Airbus Deutschland, which made an overall system analysis of hydrogen as an aviation fuel as part of a two-year, €7.29 million ($10.4 million) Fifth Framework programme called Liquid Hydrogen-Fuelled Aircraft System Analysis, completed in 2002.

Researchers found that aircraft would require fuel tanks four times larger than today's, with modelling showing that the larger exterior surface areas would increase energy consumption by 9% to 14%, and overall operating costs by 4% to 5%.

The study concluded that hydrogen-fuelled engines were just as energy efficient as kerosene engines, that conventional turbofan engines could be converted to run on hydrogen, and that implementation could "take place within 15 to 20 years", the EU reported.

Speaking at the World Airlines Forum on sustainable development in Cannes, Airbus director of sustainable development Rainer von Wrede said that there are no technology obstacles, but there are many hurdles, including the ability to produce hydrogen in sufficient quantities and in an environmentally friendly way. "I would say it would take around three decades to solve these problems," he said.

Source: Flight International