According to a press release from Airbus, the company is working on a fully hydrogen fuel cell powered, six propeller ("pod") commercial airliner.
“The ‘pod’ configuration is essentially a distributed fuel cell propulsion system that delivers thrust to the aircraft via six propulsors arranged along the wing,” explains Matthieu Thomas, ZEROe Aircraft Lead Architect. “Hydrogen fuel cells have very different design considerations, so we knew we had to come up with a unique approach.”
The technology to build workable hydrogen fuel cells to fuel an aircraft has not yet been scaled up to a passenger-size type aircraft. Light, experimental aircraft that requires up to 20 seats may either be fixed-wing or propeller-driven.
But with more passenger capacity and longer range, another approach is required. This is why Airbus is investigating the different combinations of “pods” to decide which ones have a real possibility of being larger. The removable fixtures are also an importnat aspect of the "pod" configuration according to Airbus.
This design enables each module to be disassembled and reassembled easily. This strategy will reduce airport pollution and provide a fast and convenient way to refill aircraft.
The propeller of the pod's 8-bladed propeller is designed to provide greater propulsion during takeoff and ascending. The innovative configuration for the airfoil would gain performance and quality.
According to the website,
Each “pod” is essentially a stand-alone propeller propulsion system powered by hydrogen fuel cells. It consists of the following elements:
A cooling system
A set of auxiliary equipment
Hydrogen and air are supplied to the fuel cells to generate electric current. Power electronics convert the current to power the electric motors. Thanks to this energy, the motor shaft rotates, thereby turning the propeller.
"This ‘pod’ configuration is a great starting point to nurture further inquiry into how we can scale up hydrogen technology to commercial aircraft. This is one option, but many more will be conceptualised before we make a final selection, a decision that is expected by 2025." said Glenn Llewellyn, VP of Zero-Emission Aircraft.
The “pod” configuration is scheduled to be patented in December 2020, 18 months after it is first applied to the patent office. This highlights the Airbus has been focusing on an all-electric aero engine for many years now. The other patents relevant to the ZEROe programme will be applied during the coming months and years.