Airbus SE is set to announce a partnership with engine-maker CFM International to work on hydrogen propulsion as it targets introduction of a passenger aircraft running on the fuel by 2035, according to people familiar with the matter.
An announcement planned for Tuesday involves adapting a current-generation CFM engine to run on hydrogen, said the people, who asked not to be named prior to a press conference. Airbus said Monday that it planned “a major announcement with key engine partners” tied to its zero-emissions plans.
The initiative with CFM, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA, doesn’t mark a firm commitment to any one engine partner or technology, said the people, who asked not to be named prior to the announcement. Airbus has been working with other suppliers as well to assess options for emissions-free flying.
Hydrogen technology is still under research for use in jet engines. Airbus rival Boeing Co. is testing hydrogen fuel cells on its ScanEagle3 pilotless military drone, while expressing skepticism about the 2035 target for commercial jetliners.
Safran has called hydrogen a “promising candidate” for future aircraft models. The French supplier said at its capital markets day in December that it was working with Airbus on a demonstration project adapting an existing engine to hydrogen fuel.
Safran also said it was “developing the technological bricks” for hydrogen aircraft, including specific materials and adjustments to fuel-system technologies.
An Airbus spokesman declined to comment ahead of the Tuesday announcement. A spokeswoman for CFM couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Airbus is attempting to rally the aviation industry behind the ambitious hydrogen plan as it faces mounting pressure to reduce emissions that lead to global warming. With manufacturers gearing up to ultimately make the shift to zero-emission flying, enginemakers GE, Safran, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc will all compete for a share of the new market.
Rolls-Royce, which currently specializes in widebody engines, has said it is now considering a return to the single-aisle market and is speaking to both plane makers about possible opportunities. Pratt, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp., said Monday that it received U.S. Department of Energy funding to further its work on hydrogen propulsion.
GE and Safran have teamed up to develop new engines with an open fan architecture, with propellers instead of the more-common enclosed blades. The new engines would be compatible with conventional fuels and sustainable alternatives including hydrogen.
Flight Global, which reported on the Safran capital markets day in December, said at the time that CFM may have an edge due to the French state’s financing of hydrogen development. France is the largest investor in Toulouse-based Airbus and in Paris-based Safran.
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