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Airbus Bets on Hydrogen to Deliver Zero-Emission Jets

The European planemaker has given itself five years to develop an aircraft that doesn’t pollute the sky.

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Photo Illustration: 731; Photos: Courtesy Airbus

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There are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of developing the first zero-emission, hydrogen-powered plane. It’s tricky to safely store and use the highly combustible fuel. There aren’t any airports equipped to refuel jets with it. And the cost of hydrogen itself is prohibitive, at least if you want to avoid producing greenhouse gases.

Yet in September, Airbus SE gave itself five years to develop a commercially viable hydrogen aircraft. The world’s biggest planemaker has the backing of its stakeholders—the French, Spanish, and German governments, who have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050—and billions of euros in government subsidies. Even with help it’s going to be a herculean task that will require reinventing the trillion-dollar aviation industry.