TOULOUSEAirbus intends to have the first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft flying by 2035 and believes the fuel will replace kerosene, ultimately leading to zero-emissions aviation.

That was the prediction of Airbus vice-president of zero-emission aircraft, Glenn Llewellyn, who manages three all-hydrogen-powered aircraft projects.

Renewable energy needs to power future aviation and hydrogen is potentially the best pathway through which to do so, Mr. Llewellyn told during a Rethink Energy webinar jointly hosted by the Institute of International & European Affairs and the ESB last week on Thursday.

Success would depend, however, on the widespread use of hydrogen in economies, Mr. Llewellyn said, and renewable energy in the form of wind and solar continuing to decline in price; likewise the cost of electricity which would be critical to producing low-cost hydrogen.

It was down to “simple mathematics”, Mr. Llewellyn said, as Paris Agreement targets could not be met without hydrogen. It was the most promising solution to potentially eliminate aviation’s climate impact, while significantly reducing or even eliminating pollutants such as CO2, NOx, and contrails, the line-shaped vapor trails produced by aircraft engine exhausts.

It was also “complementary to the short-term need to scale up sustainable aviation fuel”; a carbon-reduction solution for commercial aircraft over the short to medium terms. Hydrogen does not produce any emissions if generated from renewable energy through electrolysis, he said. This would essentially allow aviation to be powered by renewable energy.

He expected the cost of hydrogen to significantly decline over the next decade as its production ramps up at a large scale in transport; notably through use in trucks, rail travel, and shipping. This would make it increasingly cost-competitive with existing options, such as kerosene jet fuel. Airports should start using hydrogen to decarbonize their ground transportation ecosystem, thereby enabling hydrogen to scale up at airports in preparation for future hydrogen aircraft by the mid-2030s, Mr. Llewellyn said, but they should also act as hydrogen hubs servicing adjoining cities.