Airbus Unveils ‘Podded’ Engine Design for ZEROe Program

 - December 15, 2020, 9:30 AM
A series of six "pods" mounted under the ZEROe concept's wing could power Airbus's future airliner. (Image: Airbus)

Airbus engineers have devised a new configuration as part of the ZEROe hydrogen-powered concept aircraft program that consists of six eight-bladed “pods” mounted beneath the aircraft wing, the company revealed Tuesday. One of several configurations under consideration as part of Airbus’s ongoing research and development, the design features a series of standalone propulsion systems based on hydrogen fuel cell technology. Studies now center on determining to what extent the pod configuration, among others, could apply to large commercial aircraft.

“The pod configuration is essentially a distributed fuel cell propulsion system that delivers thrust to the aircraft via six propulsors arranged along the wing,” explained 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.” 

Smaller experimental hydrogen aircraft, carrying up to 20 seats, can rely on a traditional fixed-wing configuration with two propellers. But more passenger capacity and longer range require another solution, according to Airbus. The pod configuration represents one possible way to create enough scale to power larger aircraft. 

Each pod would consist of a propeller, electric motors, fuel cells, power electronics, a liquid hydrogen tank, a cooling system, and a set of auxiliary equipment. The design uses hydrogen and air supplied to the fuel cells to generate electric current. Power electronics convert the current to power the electric motors, which, in turn, rotate the motor shaft and turn the propeller.

Airbus calls the pod configuration’s removable fixtures a “striking feature” that allows disassembly and reassembly in “record time,” allowing for rapid maintenance and, potentially, hydrogen refueling at airports.

Airbus plans to publish a patent application for the pod configuration by the end of the year, 18 months after its initial submission. The company said that it expects to submit several more patent applications over the coming months and years as R&D continues on the ZEROe program. Airbus plans to render a final decision on which configuration it launches first in 2025.