Airbus develops cryogenic tanks to work on -253 °C

To support the next aircraft powered by liquid hydrogen, Airbus is building cryogenic hydrogen storage tanks. At -253 °C, liquid hydrogen must be kept in storage.

In the simplest words possible, two primary technologies allow an airplane to fly straight on hydrogen, according to Airbus. Gas turbine engines that have been adapted can be used to power an engine using hydrogen combustion, and hydrogen fuel cells can be used to generate electricity. Additionally, you might utilize a hybrid strategy that combines both technologies.

Whatever the case, there is one requirement that must be met: liquid hydrogen must be held at a temperature of -253°C and must be maintained at that level for the whole journey, even when the tanks are empty.

Therefore, storage tanks are a crucial component of a hydrogen-powered aircraft, but they are very distinct from those you may find on a conventional aircraft.

With the goal of designing and producing hydrogen tanks, Airbus built Zero Emission Development Centers (ZEDCs) in Bremen, Germany, and Nantes, France, around 15 months ago.

With their experience working with hydrogen, Ariane Group and Airbus Defence and Space are nearby in Bremen, and Nantes has extensive knowledge of metallic constructions. The tank is made in Nantes, and Bremen produces the ColdBox, which is responsible for gasifying the liquid hydrogen.

This tank is not just technologically advanced; it also marks a break with established procedures. The teams chose a co-development strategy, embracing an agile and dynamic working methodology, where they acknowledged the need to invent, test, fail rapidly, and adapt in order to advance quickly. In other words, rather than spending a lot of time working on theoretical plans, the teams jump right into manufacturing a prototype, which they test and learn from before developing an improved version.

The development at the Nantes location, where the team used an empty warehouse to build the first cryogenic hydrogen tank ever created at Airbus in just over a year, serves as an example of this speed.

The steps involved in bringing this novel technology to market are as follows:

  • The cryogenic hydrogen tanks are designed by engineers in Toulouse using the software.
  • The teams in Bremen and Nantes receive these designs, assess them, and look into the manufacturing process.
  • Once the design has been decided upon, the first prototype tank is created and tested using nitrogen rather than hydrogen. Airbus is now located here.

The test results and observations are compiled, and all of this knowledge is used to construct a second prototype that will contain hydrogen. In particular, Airbus is focusing on increasing space, enhancing performance, and streamlining the manufacturing process. The construction and testing of the second tank, which is already underway, will take around another year.

By 2026–2028, the tank must be prepared for installation in the A380 demonstration.