Inside Logistics

Hydrogen fuel for aviation

Lufthansa Technik, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Center for Applied Aeronautical Research (ZAL), and Hamburg Airport are pooling their expertise to investigate options for liquid hydrogen fuel for aircraft


July 15, 2021
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The aerospace industry is preparing to fly with hydrogen.

Examples of potential fields of application for liquid hydrogen in and on future aircraft (blue arrows) as well as at the airport (ground vehicles) and its periphery (refueling systems).  (Image: Hamburg Marketing)

Liquid hydrogen (LH2) is gaining attention from large aircraft manufacturers as a sustainably producible fuel for future generations of commercial aircraft. In order to investigate the effects of the use of LH2 on maintenance and ground processes at an early stage, Lufthansa Technik, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Center for Applied Aeronautical Research (ZAL), and Hamburg Airport are now pooling their expertise. The aim is to jointly develop a pioneering demonstrator, and to operate it from 2022.

“There is no alternative to the transformation of our industry towards climate-neutral flying. With this project, we want to tackle this enormous technological challenge at an early stage – for the entire MRO industry as well as for us. In this way, we are actively securing the future, because we are building up know-how today for the maintenance and ground processes of the day after tomorrow,” explained Johannes Bussmann, CEO of Lufthansa Technik.

Converted A320

Lufthansa Technik will convert an Airbus A320 into a stationary laboratory at its base in Hamburg. As the world’s third largest aviation location, the City of Hamburg is funding the research project.

“Hamburg is not just one of the three largest aviation clusters in the world, last year the city also developed the clear vision of becoming a major hydrogen metropolis,” explained Michael Westhagemann, senator for economics and innovation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

“I therefore see it as both a logical and gratifying step to combine these two core competences of Hamburg. The port, the energy sector, industry and the entire mobility sector are involved and are preparing for this groundbreaking technology. With this project, we are now also making an essential contribution to the transformation of aviation into a climate-neutral mobility solution of the future. The clear goal is to build up a hydrogen economy in Hamburg that will occupy a leading position internationally.”

In the first phase of the project, by the end of 2021, the partners will identify areas for research and elaborate a plan for subsequent practical testing. For example, satellite communications as well as galleys, cabin or IFE systems could be powered by electricity from a fuel cell in the future. The project partners will determine in the coming months which fields of application will actually be investigated in more detail in the practical evaluation.

The practical implementation of the concept will start with the modification of a decommissioned Airbus A320 aircraft. It will be equipped with an LH2 infrastructure to be used as a fully functional field laboratory.

Digital twin

At the same time, A digital twin will be created at DLR to allow design and testing in a virtual environment.

“The aircraft of the future are lighter, more efficient and fly with alternative propulsion concepts. Hydrogen will play an important role in this. We need to learn – promptly and in detail – the requirements on aircraft and maintenance of real-world operation with hydrogen on the ground,” said Markus Fischer, DLR deputy board member aeronautics.

“In the project, we are using this data and experience to develop digital models for ground processes. These digital process twins can then be used directly in the design of future-oriented and yet practicable aircraft configurations.”

Against this background, Lufthansa Technik will primarily contribute its great operational expertise in the maintenance and modification of commercial aircraft, and can also incorporate the customer perspective through its close contact with airlines around the world.

DLR will add its long-standing and cross-sector experience with hydrogen, and focus on the development of a virtual environment. ZAL will also participate with its extensive know-how in the field of fuel cell technology and its digital process mapping.

“The development of a field laboratory and a digital twin are important components of Hamburg’s Green Aviation Technology Roadmap. They were developed together with the members of the Hamburg Aviation Cluster last year to strengthen Hamburg’s competence in research and development in a European context,” said Roland Gerhards, CEO of ZAL GmbH.

Airport perspective

As an associated project partner, Hamburg Airport will primarily contribute its experience from the operator’s perspective, for example in defining requirements for the ground handling process of future LH2-powered aircraft.

Michael Eggenschwiler, CEO of Hamburg Airport, said, “Climate-friendly flying with hydrogen technology is only possible if the infrastructure on the ground also fits perfectly. Close coordination is required here, and we as an airport are pleased to be able to contribute our know-how to this important project – from questions of storage and distribution to the refueling process on the apron. At the airport, we also rely on hydrogen as the technology of the future for our ground transport. This project offers us the chance to identify and make the best possible use of synergy effects between gaseous hydrogen, such as that used for refueling our baggage tractors, and liquid hydrogen for aircraft refueling.”