Airbus has informed EU officials that most aircraft will continue to rely on conventional jet engines until at least 2050 in a briefing released ahead of the low-emission aviation report, Reuters reported.
The aviation industry, which is associated with just over two percent of global carbon emissions, is under double pressure to reduce emissions in line with climate goals while recovering from the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Electric, hydrogen and hybrid aircraft have been proposed as low-carbon or carbon-free alternatives to jet-powered aircraft.
In February this year, the European aviation industry published a study detailing how to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050 through technological advances and expanding sustainable fuel use.
The EU aims to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Airbus announced last September that it hopes to develop zero-emission aircraft that can be put into service by 2035.
The company presented three different concepts, all based on hydrogen as the primary energy source.
Airbus believes that hydrogen holds the most promise as a clean jet fuel, as battery-powered aircraft can currently only operate very short flights.
However, Airbus has not publicly committed to replacing the mid-range A320 (which will be replaced in the 2030s) with a hydrogen-powered model.
The A320 line is the world’s best-selling aircraft, recently ahead of the Boeing 737, with an A320 aircraft taking off or landing somewhere in the world approximately every 1.6 seconds.
The recent briefing to EU officials, as reported by Reuters, seems to rule this out. “Emission-free hydrogen aircraft will primarily target regional and shorter-haul aircraft from 2035, meaning current and future iterations of high-efficiency gas turbines will still be needed as we move towards 2050, especially for long-haul flights,” Airbus said.
officials in the office of European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, who is responsible for EU climate policy.
As an interim step, Airbus said it will test an A320 using 100 percent “sustainable jet fuel,” which is derived from renewable raw materials rather than finite petroleum reserves.
Airbus aims to supply the medium-haul category of the A320 with this renewable fuel first and “possibly some hydrogen” from 2050, while the smaller models (A220 and Embraer E2) would use batteries, hydrogen and renewable fuel by 2040.
Only the smallest regional 50-100 seat models will be hydrogen fuel-ready by the 2030s, Airbus said. The company did not appear to share details of how the zero-emission technology would be built into its smaller short-haul aircraft.
Airbus says it is still in the conceptual phase of R&D and that its research “will lead to disruptive technology that is likely to play a role in the next generation of aircraft”.
Its US rival Boeing recently ruled out the use of hydrogen on a significant scale before 2050. Slides of the presentation were obtained by climate lobby watchdog InfluenceMap via a FOI request.
The slides were part of a larger set of documents released by the group that also showed aviation industry representatives lobbied EU policymakers for their use of green stimulus funds.
The documents showed that Air France-KLM urged the EU to use the green funds to support aircraft sales, arguing that taxpayer-funded incentives for current aircraft models could help reduce emissions through older aircraft. and retire less fuel-efficient aircraft.