Lufthansa makes Airbus A320 hydrogen aviation lab

The Airbus A320 is getting a “fresh lease of life in the service of research,” as Lufthansa Technik put it. In Hamburg, the decommissioned plane will serve as the Hydrogen Aviation Lab, where future hydrogen aircraft’s ground and maintenance procedures will be tested.

This particular jet was manufactured in 1991 and sent straight to Lufthansa, where it served with registration number D-AIQF until the latter airline’s 2014 bankruptcy. After a brief stint with the discount airline Germanwings, it was reintegrated into the mainline airline’s fleet in 2017. Based on information from ch-aviation, it logged a total of 67,098 flight hours throughout 54,097 flight cycles during its time in service transporting paying passengers.

The A320-200 is already in its third decade of service and will help bring in the next generation of air travel. Lufthansa Technik reports that the plane is now ready for its “critical next step.” In the upcoming months, it will have a fuel cell and internal storage for liquid hydrogen installed, in addition to a battery of testing equipment. In addition, a system for hydrogen infrastructure on the ground will be established as part of the project.

In honor of its new mission, the plane has been given a custom paint job. However, its ability to fly will be lost. However, it may be towed to other sites within the Lufthansa Technik facility and the Hamburg Airport, where researchers and engineers can work on it. This will aid in their comprehension of how hydrogen processes on the ground operate in practice.

An A320 “digital twin” is also being built as part of this effort. This will let scientists create and try out new forms of predictive maintenance. Using this method, scientists will be able to foresee the impending failure of a system component and replace it before it really breaks.

Hydrogen’s potential in the aviation industry

The Hamburg Ministry of Economic Affairs and Innovation has provided funding for a new Hydrogen Aviation Lab that is a collaboration between Lufthansa Technik, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the ZAL Center for Applied Aeronautical Research, and Hamburg Airport.

Senator Michael Westhagemann of Hamburg’s Economic Affairs Committee said of the endeavor,

“Hamburg has started a fantastic endeavor with its Hydrogen Aviation Lab. It will be an important step toward realizing the potential of hydrogen as an aviation fuel. Hydrogen infrastructure development might benefit from the attention paid to maintenance and refueling processes. Through the use of this real-world laboratory, we can provide an important element to Hamburg’s plan for greener air travel. We are pursuing two overarching objectives: the decarbonization of the transportation sectors and the growth of the hydrogen economy in Hamburg. With the help of the Special Aviation Fund, we are overjoyed to be able to undertake this historic endeavor.”

The main research topics the lab will investigate include:

  • Refueling with liquid hydrogen (integrating it into existing airport infrastructure, ensuring competitive refueling times and processes, avoiding overfilling and wasting)
  • Cooling, insulation, and occupational safety (prevent ice-building, look at additional protection requirements, etc.)
  • Leakage of hydrogen gas, so-called boil-off (prevent the uncontrolled escape of LH2 when it becomes gaseous, safety precautions for storage and fueling, recover escaped GH2)
  • Making stored hydrogen inert (protect against fire hazards, suitable safety protocols, training for maintenance personnel)