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Axel Krein on progress in aircraft and engines by 2050 at the Académie de l’air et de l’espace

11 March 2021

On 11 March 2021, Clean Sky 2’s Executive Director Axel Krein spoke at the Académie de l’air et de l’espace (Air and Space Academy)’s event entitled ‘Air transport in crisis and the climate challenge: Towards new paradigms’ on ‘Progress expected in aircraft and engines by 2050, airworthiness of new fuels’.

Axel spoke about Clean Sky’s ambitious goals, in line with the EU Green Deal and within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Difficult times present us with new opportunities,” Axel said. “The European Union’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050 is a huge challenge for the aviation community but also a new opportunity.”

Hydrogen has a lot of potential as a fuel for the aircraft of the future. It can also be combined with other technologies to power climate-neutral flight, such as hydrogen-based fuel cell technologies with electric architectures. While synfuels could reduce climate impact by 30-60%, the impact of hydrogen is much greater - hydrogen combustion could reduce impact by 50-75%, and fuel cells by 75-90%. 

“Net zero for aviation is possible, and hydrogen can play a significant role, but we need to invest in research and innovation to get there!” declared Axel, highlighting that if hydrogen is truly to be an effective alternative fuel for the future, then fearless investment is needed now.

Axel also spoke about the technical challenges associated with hydrogen technology – like liquid hydrogen storage, the distribution of liquid hydrogen on board and how to evaporate it for the engine and fuel cell in a reliable and fast manner. 

He outlined how a first prototype for a short-range aircraft needs to emerge first, with a potential entry-into-service of 2035 at the earliest. Building on these designs, a medium-range aircraft prototype for a potential entry-into-service by 2040 should be targeted, and then by 2050, the aim should be to explore if hydrogen could play a role for the long-range segment. 

The next main milestone for hydrogen-powered aircraft should be in 2028, by which time Axel envisions that there will be proof of technical feasibility and first certification rules of a commercially available hydrogen aircraft. 

Going forwards, Clean Sky’s Executive Director stressed the importance of developing a strong network and fostering a high-performing aviation and research ecosystem. To build highly innovative technologies, appropriate funding was needed, he stressed. 

And time is running out if we want to meet this extremely ambitious target of climate-neutral aviation. 

“The journey needs to start yesterday!” Axel declared. 

To be zero-emission by 2050, new environmentally-friendly aircraft cannot only start to enter the market by 2040 or 2050. The remaining time left to 2050 would be too short to replace current fleet, which would still be active. 

The time between now and the end of this decade is crucial to identify, develop, mature and demonstrate the necessary technologies in order to allow new green aircraft to enter into service by 2035. Clean Sky is ready for this challenge, with the support of our network of public and private participants.