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'We need more cross-sector research projects to achieve sustainable aviation' Interview with Nicole Dreyer-Langlet, Airbus

'We need more cross-sector research projects to achieve sustainable aviation'
Image: Airbus

In the following interview, Nicole Dreyer-Langlet who is Vice President and Representative of Research & Development at Airbus Commercial in Germany explains what the aircraft of the future could look like.

Renewable Energy Hamburg: Which sustainability goals is Airbus currently pursuing?

Nicole Dreyer-Langlet: "Our CEO, Guillaume Faury, is putting his heart and soul behind Airbus' sustainability strategy, both internally and externally. We want to further reduce CO2 emissions significantly by 2030. This is something we have already made good progress towards. One example is the A320neo Family. New engines and aerodynamic optimisation have reduced the fuel consumption of this highly successful aircraft series globally by up to 20 per cent in comparison to previous aircraft generations. Likewise, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are playing a key role in decarbonisation. The long-term goal, however, is to bring 'zero-emissions aircraft' to market by 2035.

Renewable Energy Hamburg: Please explain what a hydrogen aircraft of the future might look like? When do you realistically expect the first hydrogen aircraft to appear?

Nicole Dreyer-Langlet: "We have made it our goal to introduce the first hydrogen aircraft into scheduled service by 2035. A target that is quite ambitious. Comparatively long development cycles are the norm in the aviation industry. This not only involves the design of the aircraft itself, but also very complex tests and certification procedures. At the moment, we are conducting an analysis of the individual technology components. This is followed by demonstrators to test larger assemblies and finally a complete aircraft.

It is very important to me that we do not simply power an aircraft with hydrogen. This has already been done successfully in research projects dating back more than 20 years. Airlines expect the ZEROe aircraft to be a product that offers more than 99 per cent take-off reliability, much like the aircraft of today. The challenge lies in making it suitable for everyday use under the conditions of commercial passenger and cargo traffic.

When it comes to appearance, we are currently exploring several possibilities. All we can say for sure is that the shape of the aircraft will be different – hydrogen has completely different storage requirements in comparison to jet fuel. The latter is transported in the wings of today's aircraft, in rather angular tanks. In contrast, hydrogen requires quite voluminous containers, taking the form of spheres or cylinders in view of the low temperatures. We are currently 'playing' with different variants – disruptive and classic. The final decision will only be made in the coming years."

Renewable Energy Hamburg: Critics fear that hydrogen aircraft could be significantly more dangerous than conventional aircraft? Is this the case?

Nicole Dreyer-Langlet: "There can be no compromises when it comes to safety. Hydrogen is a substance which has been in use for a long time, be it in the chemical industry, in cars powered by fuel cells or in space travel. This experience is what we will build on when it comes to developing the hydrogen aircraft and its infrastructure."

Renewable Energy Hamburg: A lot of research and development is needed to successfully build hydrogen aircraft. Who are the partners you are working with on this project of the century?

Nicole Dreyer-Langlet: "We are working very closely with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and with Helmholtz institutes, just to name a few. We are also exchanging ideas with stakeholders in the maritime industry and from other modes of transport. Shipping and transport on land face similar challenges as we do. We definitely need more cross-sector research projects to achieve sustainable aviation. We all need to pull together here – this ambitious goal can only be achieved with a cooperative approach."

Many thanks for this interesting and insightful interview, Ms Dreyer-Langlet!


See and hear more at this year's "Connecting Powerfuel Hubs" conference organised by the German Energy Agency (dena) and Renewable Energy Hamburg on 23 June and register now: