Japan’s aerospace industry confirmed this week again that it is keen to get involved in the development of hydrogen as the fuel for future civil aircraft. On April 12, Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) and Airbus signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on a hydrogen ecosystem and supply chain. Japan’s Kawasaki invests further in hydrogen research.

The MoU focuses on the development of airport hydrogen hubs that include the production of hydrogen, its delivery to airports, and getting the liquid, super cold fuel onboard aircraft. Similar studies and projects are planned across the world, but Kawasaki brings its own knowledge of hydrogen into the MoU. 

“We have specialized in the development of infrastructure for liquefaction, transportation, storage, and transport to receiving terminals, contributing to the construction and expansion of supply chains for the hydrogen market. We are confident that our technology will connect the hydrogen production and consumption areas, creating a new road called Hydrogen Road,” says Motohiko Nishikura, Executive Officer and Deputy General Manager of Kawasaki’s Hydrogen Strategy Division in a media statement.

The contribution of Airbus consists of providing data on aircraft characteristics, fleet energy usage, and insight on hydrogen-powered aircraft for ground operations. The OEM is pushing hard with its own ZEROe hydrogen aircraft project that was announced in September 2020. A demonstrator based on the A380 is planned for 2025. This should be followed by the launch of an airliner program around 2027 for entry into service around 2035.

Japan actively promotes hydrogen

Japan has been actively promoting hydrogen since the government said in 2020 that it is committed to becoming net-zero on carbon emissions in 2050. Major industrial conglomerates like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki are preparing infrastructure for global hydrogen procurement, using gas or green energy sources to produce hydrogen. Across Japan, there are numerous demonstration facilities under development or construction to produce hydrogen for a range of applications in transportation, housing, and the industry.

In aviation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries RJ Aviation Group (MHIRJ) and ZeroAvia announced in October 2021 that they are developing a hydrogen-electric propulsion system with fuel cell technology for the Mitsubishi CRJ family for availability in 2027. The hydrogen kit will be available on new and converted aircraft.

Kawasaki, already a Tier 1 supplier for Boeing on the 777 and 787 and earlier the Embraer E170, has taken a different approach and is developing hydrogen technology under the government-backed Green Innovation Fund from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). KHI plans to spend the next ten years developing technology in three different areas. The first is hydrogen aircraft engine combustor and systems while the second looks at storage tanks of liquid hydrogen. The third focuses on hydrogen-aircraft architecture concept research, for which KHI released an artist impression.

“With these three project focuses, the company is pursuing the development of core airframe and engine technologies that are necessary to achieve the next-generation aircraft, which will play a vital role in the achievement of a carbon-neutral society”, Kawasaki said in a November 5 media release. KHI plans to carry out verification-purpose ground tests in 2030.

The MoU with Airbus perfectly fits this roadmap and should offer Kawasaki valuable insights for its own and Japan’s hydrogen strategy. Japan is not alone in exploring hydrogen: the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) recently presented three FlyZero aircraft concepts for hydrogen aircraft and identified the items that will need further research. German Aerospace Center (DLR) did a similar project while Europe’s Clean Aviation has opened for proposals for the first phase of the technology program that also covers hydrogen.

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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