The veteran Airbus will be retrofitted with a hydrogen fuel cell , Source: Kai Hager via Lufthansa Technik AG

Retired Airbus A320 becomes hydrogen aviation research lab in Hamburg

Retired Airbus A320 becomes hydrogen aviation research lab in Hamburg

The Hanseatic City is trying to promote the mass adoption of sustainable mobility and aviation

Today, Hamburg authorities unveiled the newest addition to the city’s Hydrogen Aviation Lab – a decommissioned Airbus A320. The Hamburg Hydrogen Aviation Lab is a joint initiative between city 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 by the city, hydrogen and other sustainable aviation solutions should start permeating the aviation industry in the next decade. This research facility, on the other hand, could help solve many issues from that transition quickly.

The research priorities of the project  

The Airbus A320, which has been in service for the past 30 years will be prepared by Lufthansa Technik to take on its new role. The plane will be retrofitted with a liquid hydrogen tank and fuel cell, however, it will not be airworthy. Instead, the Hydrogen Aviation Lab plan to haul it around Hamburg’s airport and test out different fuelling techniques.

This is because one of the biggest issues with using hydrogen as a plane fuel at the moment, according to the lab, is fuelling times. Currently refuelling a long-haul flight might take several hours which makes hydrogen definitely a less viable option considering airports run on razor-thin schedules and margins.

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

Refuelling and filling with liquid hydrogen:

  • How can hydrogen be optimally integrated into existing airport infrastructure?
  • How do we ensure competitive refuelling times and processes?
  • How do we avoid overfilling and wasting hydrogen?

Cooling, insulation and occupational safety:

  • How do we prevent ice accumulation on components and surfaces?
  • What additional protection requirements may arise in the work area (no step / no grab areas, personal protective equipment for employees)?

Escape of hydrogen gas: The so-called "boil-off":

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

Inerting the stored hydrogen:

  • What protective measures must be taken with regard to the flammability of H2?
  • What could suitable security protocols look like?
  • What training needs to be developed for ground or maintenance personnel?



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