The aerospace industry is preparing for flying with hydrogen. In Hamburg, the world's third-largest aviation center, a new development platform is being launched to test the new technology from as early as 2022. Funded by the Hanseatic City of Hamburg, Lufthansa Technik will work with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Center for Applied Aeronautical Research (ZAL) and Hamburg Airport over the next two years to design and test extensive maintenance and ground processes in handling hydrogen technology. For this purpose, an aircraft of the Airbus A320 family will be converted into a stationary laboratory at Lufthansa Technik's base in Hamburg.
Liquid hydrogen (LH2) is increasingly being more concretely envisaged in the development departments of 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, DLR, ZAL and Hamburg Airport are now pooling their extensive practical and scientific expertise. The aim is to jointly develop a pioneering demonstrator, and to operate it from 2022. For further information see the IDTechEx report on The Hydrogen Economy, Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Production Methods.
As the world's third largest aviation location, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is funding the research project with the largest single item in its special program to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation industry.
"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 aim to identify the most urgent fields of development for closer scientific examination and, on this basis, to elaborate the concept for subsequent practical testing. The practical implementation of the concept will start at the beginning of 2022 and will involve 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 at Lufthansa Technik's base in Hamburg. In parallel, a virtual environment is being created at DLR that will be used to achieve digital and highly accurate mapping of the defined development fields. The new development platform is to provide inspiration for the design process of the next generation of aircraft by means of parameterized and highly accurate virtual models.
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 the virtual environment. ZAL will also participate with its extensive know-how in the field of fuel cell technology and its digital process mapping. 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.
"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 Dr. Johannes Bussmann, Chief Executive Officer of Lufthansa Technik AG. "I am therefore pleased that we have succeeded in joining forces with strong partners in this project. And I am very grateful for the foresight of the city of Hamburg and its generous funding for this project."
"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 Dr. 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."
"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, Chief Executive Officer of ZAL GmbH. "We thank the city of Hamburg for its support in now jointly implementing this location strategy for the development 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."
About Lufthansa Technik
With some 35 subsidiaries and affiliates, the Lufthansa Technik Group is one of the leading providers of technical aircraft services in the world. Certified internationally as maintenance, production and design organization, the company has a workforce of more than 22,000 employees. Lufthansa Technik's portfolio covers the entire range of services for commercial and VIP/special mission aircraft, engines, components and landing gear in the areas of digital fleet support, maintenance, repair, overhaul, modification, completion and conversion as well as the manufacture of innovative cabin products.
About the German Aerospace Center (DLR)
DLR is the Federal Republic of Germany's research centre for aeronautics and space. We conduct research and development in aeronautics, space, energy and transport, security and digitalisation. The German Space Agency at DLR is responsible for planning and implementing German space activities on behalf of the Federal Government. Two DLR project management organisations oversee funding programmes and support knowledge transfer. Climate, mobility and technology are changing globally. DLR uses the expertise of its 55 institutes and facilities to develop solutions to these challenges. Our 10,000 employees share a mission - to explore Earth and space and develop technologies for a sustainable future. In doing so, DLR contributes to strengthening Germany's position as a prime location for research and industry.
About the ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research
The ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research in Hamburg is one of the most modern research facilities for civil aviation worldwide. On 26,000 m², the research center offers 600 employees state-of-the-art facilities for joint research and development. Following the concept of "Open Innovation," about 30 partner institutions from industry and science work here on the innovations of tomorrow. ZAL GmbH works in this unique environment with around 30 scientists and engineers. Both in partnership and on their own research projects, the aviation experts drive technology trends such as robotics, 3D printing, cabin networks or fuel cells.
About Hamburg Airport
Hamburg Airport is the fifth largest airport in Germany and is equipping itself with a modern infrastructure for all the challenges of air traffic in the future. Around 15,000 employees work in almost 250 companies on the airport site (around 2,000 in the Hamburg Airport Group alone). Shareholders of the partially privatised airport are the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg with 51 per cent and AviAlliance GmbH with 49 per cent. With the regions of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and parts of Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Denmark, Hamburg Airport has a large catchment area and is the largest airport in northern Germany. In 2019, Hamburg Airport counted over 17 million passengers per year and around 140 direct destinations from 70 airlines.
Source: Hamburg Marketing GmbH
The top image graphic depicts 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). The blue arrows outline potential fields of application in the aircraft: 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. (Image Source: Hamburg Marketing)