Studies at two major airports seek to bring hydrogen-powered flight by 2035

May 29, 2024

A partnership among airplane manufacturer Airbus and several international airports is another step in getting hydrogen-powered flight off the ground. The company recently announced it is conducting feasibility studies to develop hydrogen fuel capabilities at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

“Airports are looking for a diverse and balanced energy mix to be more resilient and help reduce the impact of aviation on the environment. Hydrogen is a key enabler for this,” Karine Guénan, vice president of ZEROe ecosystem at Airbus, said in a press release. Airbus created the ZEROe program with the goal of manufacturing the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft by 2035.

As part of ZEROe, Airbus is working with hydrogen fuel companies, airlines and airports across the world on “research into infrastructure requirements and low-carbon airport operations across the entire value chain,” Guénan told Government Market News. In addition to Atlanta and Houston, Airbus is conducting hydrogen feasibility studies at three airports across Canada, joining 11 ongoing studies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

“During the studies, the partners work together to rethink how their infrastructures could be designed and operated to reduce their overall environmental footprint and welcome future hydrogen-powered aircraft such as those Airbus plans to bring to the air,” Guénan said.

In the United States, civil aviation, which includes passenger and cargo services but excludes government and military operations, accounts for about 2.5 to 3% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change. In an effort to cut aviation emissions, the Federal Aviation Administration is overseeing a sustainable-aviation fuels challenge with the goal that by 2050, the nation can meet 100% of aviation fuel demand from less polluting sources than conventional fuel.

Simultaneously, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act kickstarted a flurry of investment in hydrogen fuel, which proponents say is versatile enough to replace gasoline or jet fuel. In Houston, Airbus is partnering with the Center for Houston’s Future, one of the organizations behind the HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, which has received $1.2 billion from the Department of Energy to develop a hydrogen fuel supply chain on the Gulf Coast.

In a statement to Government Market News, Guénan said the Inflation Reduction Act is a “pivotal framework” for assuring that there is “a competitive green hydrogen supply in the U.S. and potentially for exports.”

Although Atlanta is not among the seven hydrogen hubs receiving direct federal grants, the largest green hydrogen production plant in the country began operating this year in Woodbine, Georgia, and it will be eligible for tax credits established in the IRA. At the facility, hydrogen fuel company Plug Power uses electrolysis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. With its new facility able to produce 15 tons of liquid hydrogen per day, Plug Power is one of Airbus’s partners on the Atlanta feasibility study. Delta Airlines is also participating in the study.

“The potential to decarbonize aviation with green hydrogen is substantial,” Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh said in a press release, adding that his company has “a ready-made supply of green hydrogen to support the airport.”

Even with major investments in hydrogen fuel, however, Airbus acknowledges that the road ahead contains challenges. In a statement, Guénan described some of the hurdles left to overcome, including fully operating fuel storage and distribution systems and ground refueling systems that can fill up airplanes in the same amount of time as conventional jet fuel.

The feasibility study in Houston will conclude in 2025, while Atlanta will wrap up in 2026. Building on the research and collaboration between Airbus and its partners, the company expects hydrogen infrastructure development to ramp up around 2030 for hydrogen-powered flight to become a reality in 2035.

Photo courtesy of Airbus

Don't Miss

Massive support, funding now available to improve supply-chain networks

New opportunities for multimodal freight, rail, and port projects are
A hospital hallway.

New hospitals greenlit for Amarillo, Wichita Falls

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is searching