Airbus & ALTEN: Decarbonising civil aviation by 2035


The hydrogen Aircraft: a revolutionary flagship project

In September 2020, Airbus announced its intention to develop a fully hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035. Alongside Airbus, ALTEN teams are working to achieve this revolutionary goal of bringing to market an emission-free, completely carbon-free aircraft, with hydrogen replacing paraffin.

Hydrogen is a fantastic energy source that is three times more productive than paraffin, offering a remarkable opportunity for decarbonisation. This “green aircraft” project is part of the French government’s stimulus programme and therefore enjoys a lot of political and media attention. The government’s involvement has helped to accelerate the development of the project.

Among the possible solutions, the partners are working on different technologies with two objectives: one is to develop internal combustion engines that run on hydrogen instead of paraffin, and the other is to use hydrogen to charge fuel cells that will in turn power electric motors. In both cases, the aim is to eliminate CO2 emissions.

Hydrogen, however, is an energy for which important technological issues still need to be addressed and safety solutions found to minimise risks to the general public.

Its cross-sectoral impact is a real advantage

Hydrogen aircraft are a challenge to design and operate. The peculiarity is that hydrogen must be transported at -273 °C, but it is not easy to maintain hydrogen at cryogenic temperature. ALTEN teams are working on the overall design, mechanical and thermal analysis to ensure the integrity of the hydrogen tank and guarantee passenger safety.

As the only high-tech engineering and consulting company involved in the project, ALTEN acts as a technological bridge between the different partners by gathering feedback from the business units, especially in the space sector: for example, we have also been working for ArianeGroup for more than 10 years on the development and production follow-up of launchers using hydrogen as a fuel. Our positioning as a multi-specialist in several industries was indeed crucial.

This R&D development partnership between Airbus and ALTEN represents a real opportunity for significant innovation, as well as a response to major environmental challenges. Three aircraft concepts have been considered so far, and the first experiments are being studied to prepare for the arrival of hydrogen-powered aircraft at airports in 2035.