Aviation in northern Europe spearheads H2 projects

The development of green hydrogen for aircraft propulsion and for airports to achieve net zero is gaining momentum – predominantly in Northern Europe. Shortly before the turn of the year, 16 airports between the Baltic States, Scandinavia, and northern Germany, founded a hydrogen initiative1). This was followed, a few days later, by a landmark agreement on the use of SAF between the Norwegian company, Norsk eFuel, Cargolux, and the airline, Norwegian2). And the H2 journey continues apace.

Image of ZEROe hydrogen-powered turboprop aircraft  – courtesy: Airbus

A group of companies, led by aircraft manufacturer Airbus, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to investigate the feasibility of a hydrogen ground infrastructure at airports in Norway and Sweden.

Alongside Airbus, the signatories are SAS, Swedavia, Avinor, and Vattenfall. This group’s main aim is to provide better understanding of hydrogen aircraft concepts and operations, supply, ground infrastructure and refueling needs at airports, in order to push forward the development of a hydrogen aviation ecosystem in both Nordic states and beyond. The work will also identify the pathways to determine which airports will be transformed first to operate hydrogen-powered aircraft in both Scandinavian countries, as well as clarify regulatory requirements.

“Sweden and Norway have great potential for H2” – Faury
Hydrogen is expected to gradually become an increasing part of the aviation industry’s fuel mix in the future and will therefore have effects on the ground infrastructure of airports.

Turning to the MoU; Airbus emphasized that it is the first time that a feasibility study of this kind covers two countries and more than 50 airports. The pact reflects the partners’ shared ambition to use their respective expertise to support the decarbonization of the aviation industry and to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

“Hydrogen stands out as a key enabler as we pioneer a sustainable aviation future,” notes Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus. The executive went on to say: “Norway and Sweden are among the most demanding regions for aviation and have great potential for hydrogen production from renewable energy sources. I am very pleased to enter into this cooperation with partners fully engaged to take significant steps towards decarbonizing aerospace. It fits perfectly with our strategy of deploying hydrogen aviation ecosystems in the most suitable parts of the world.”

Early movers
The role of green hydrogen as the most environmentally friendly energy carrier in aviation is underlined by Abraham Foss, CEO of airport operator, Avinor: “Hydrogen is emerging as a key energy carrier in future fossil free aviation.”

As the owner and operator of 43 airports across Norway, Avinor has been working on sustainability for many years already and has been a driving force and facilitator for the green transition of Norwegian aviation. “Norway, as well as Sweden, is well positioned to be an early mover in the introduction of hydrogen-powered aircraft. We look forward to contributing with our expertise as well as infrastructure to bring this important work forward,” the Avinor executive states.

Jonas Abrahamsson, Swedavia’s President and CEO, emphasizes that the partnership is a major and important step towards fossil-free aviation in northern Europe. “It will strengthen Swedavia’s role as a front-runner in fossil-free aviation, while at the same time taking another important step in the transition within the aviation industry,” the executive notes.

Still a bumpy road ahead
Encouraging the transition towards achieving net-zero emissions is a journey that matters not just for SAS, but for the entire aviation industry, exclaims SAS’ President & CEO, Anko van der Werff. He points out that SAS has already established some collaborations in fossil-free aviation. But with Airbus on board, the transition from carbon to hydrogen powered aircraft gains additional drive.

Yet, it is still a bumpy road until the first H2 powered passenger and/or freighter aircraft crosses the skies. This is acknowledged by Anna Borg, President and CEO of energy giant, Vattenfall. Breaking away from fossil fuels is a huge challenge, she states. However, “the cross-border collaboration demonstrates the willingness to bring about change. We look forward to contributing with expertise in electricity market development, electrical infrastructure, and hydrogen production in Sweden.”

While all this is comparable to plans presented by ADP as airport operator of Paris-CDG, and other large platforms, it needs to be said that smaller, regional airports will probably be faster movers in the field of Green Hydrogen and its transformation into Sustainable Aviation Fuel, remarks aviation and energy expert, Hugo Duchemin of COMWORXX S.A.S., France. Business flight operators at these airports are experiencing pressure to comply with environmental aspects. “Their customers, often multinational corporations, are also publicly under fire and can be a driving force when it comes to investing in the availability of emission-free synthetic kerosene (e-fuel),” he adds.

Decarbonizing ground ops at airports are part of the scheme
The use of H2 to power future aircraft is not only expected to significantly reduce aircraft emissions but could also help decarbonize air transport activities on the ground. In 2020, Airbus presented its first ZEROe concept with the ambition to bring the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft to market by 2035. The development of the corresponding technology is now underway in a global Research & Technology network, the plane maker assures.

In addition, Airbus kicked off the “Hydrogen Hub at Airports” program to jumpstart research into infrastructure requirements and low-carbon airport operations across the entire value chain. To date, agreements have been signed with partners and airports in ten countries including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

As pointed out by Hugo Duchemin (COMWORXX), the concept of hydrogen hubs at airports was already presented independently by both an aerospace alliance and a hydrogen company at the ILA Berlin Air Show in 2022. Not only will these hubs serve airport-internal operations, but they will also benefit all connecting services such as the thousands of air freight trucks working on behalf of the major airlines and forwarder to feed industrial cargo from production sites to cargo terminals, and from there to larger freighter terminals across Europe, notes the expert.

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