Japan to develop next-generation hydrogen engine for aircraft

Artist’s impression of a hydrogen plane with a liquid hydrogen tank in the rear of the fuselage. Courtesy of JAXA via The Japan News/Asia News Network

TOKYO — The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will begin development of a next-generation aircraft engine that uses the hydrogen as fuel in fiscal year 2022.

Hydrogen planes that don’t emit CO2 could one day become mainstream. Japan therefore wishes to secure basic technologies in order to improve the international competence of its aeronautical industry.

The ministry on Friday presented its priority themes and work schedule in the field of the aeronautics industry to a panel of experts, including the development of hydrogen engines.

JAXA has experience using liquid hydrogen as rocket fuel. The agency will continue its research and development of pumps to deliver fuel to engines, combustion chambers and tank materials through FY2030, and the technologies developed will be transferred to domestic and other manufacturers.

The Japanese aircraft industry does not have the technology to design and manufacture complete aircraft on its own. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries ended up suspending its jet airliner business, but now aims to regain its footing by developing hydrogen engines.

Since liquid hydrogen has a low temperature of minus 253°C, it is also planned to exploit this cooling capacity and combine it with superconducting motors.

Research and development of zero-emission aircraft is already taking off in the United States and Europe with an eye to the 2030s, when current fleets of large passenger planes begin to near retirement.

European aviation giant Airbus aims to have a hydrogen-powered aircraft on the market by 2035. Although burning hydrogen does not emit CO2, safety and cost issues have yet to be resolved.

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