Retired Airbus A320 becomes hydrogen research lab in Hamburg

Retired Airbus A320 becomes hydrogen research lab in Hamburg

Hanseatic city tries to promote mass adoption of sustainable mobility and aviation

Today, Hamburg authorities have unveiled the newest addition to the city Hydrogen Aviation Laboratory – a downgraded Airbus A320. The Hamburg Hydrogen Aviation Lab is a joint initiative of the municipal authorities Lufthansa Technik, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the ZAL Center for Applied Aeronautical Research and Hamburg Airport.

It aims to research the cutting edge of sustainable aviation and the commercial and practical viability of hydrogen in the aviation market. According to a statement from the city, hydrogen and other sustainable aviation solutions should begin to permeate the aviation industry in the the next decade. This research facility, on the other hand, could help quickly solve many problems related to this transition.

Project research priorities

The Airbus A320, in service for 30 years, will be prepared by Lufthansa Technik to take on its new role. The plane will be equipped with a liquid hydrogen tank and a fuel cell, but it will not be airworthy. Instead, the Hydrogen Aviation Lab plans to fly it around Hamburg airport and test different refueling techniques.

That’s because one of the biggest problems with using hydrogen as jet fuel right now, according to the lab, is refueling time. Currently refueling a a long-haul flight can take several hours which makes hydrogen a certainly less viable option given airports operating on extremely thin schedules and margins.

Here is a list of research priorities and questions that the Hydrogen Aviation Lab wishes to pursue:

Refueling and filling with liquid hydrogen:

  • How to optimally integrate hydrogen into existing airport infrastructures?
  • How do we ensure competitive refueling times and processes?
  • How to avoid overfilling and wasting hydrogen?

Cooling, insulation and occupational safety:

  • How do I prevent ice buildup on components and surfaces?
  • What additional protection requirements may arise in the work area (no steps/no gripping areas, personal protective equipment for employees)?

Escape of hydrogen gas: the so-called “boil-off”:

  • How do you prevent LH2, which becomes gaseous (Gaseous H2, GH2 for short), from escaping uncontrollably?
  • What safety protocols result from handling hydrogen, for example during refueling and storage?
  • How can we recover and continue to use the escaped GH2?

Inerting of stored hydrogen:

  • What protective measures should be taken against the flammability of H2?
  • What might appropriate security protocols look like?
  • What training should be developed for ground or maintenance personnel?