Unlocking the Potential of Hydrogen in Aviation

Unlocking the Potential of Hydrogen in Aviation: Trends and Challenges

Discover the trends and challenges of hydrogen in aviation with Dr. Lisa Belkhichane, Aerospace and Defense industry sustainability value expert at Dassault Systèmes.


Designing Impactful Innovation podcast – episode 3

In this episode, we’re exploring the use of hydrogen in the aerospace industry. Dr. Lisa Belkhichane, Aerospace and Defense industry sustainability value expert at Dassault Systèmes, tells us about the current hydrogen trends and challenges as well as how the 3DEXPERIENCE platform can help industry stakeholders implement hydrogen systems in aviation. Join us to learn more about hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen combustion and storage as well as the certification process of these new systems.

Designing Impactful Innovation podcast – episode 3

Meet our speakers

Dr. Lisa Belkhichane
Aerospace and Defense Industry Sustainability Value Expert, Dassault Systèmes

Decarbonization is not something really new for the aviation industry. But it's right that today this industry is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and to meet this really important objective, innovative aircraft and propulsion systems need to be developed, and we will see totally new architecture coming in the following decades.

You can follow the "Designing Impactful Innovation" podcast on Apple podcasts, SpotifyDeezer or by RSS.

Applepodcast Spotify deezer fluxrss

Stay tuned!

Read the transcript

Clara: Hello and welcome to the Designing Impactful Innovation podcast. I’m Clara, your host and today we’re talking about the trends and challenges of hydrogen in aviation with Dr. Lisa Belkhichane, Aerospace and Defense industry sustainability value expert at Dassault Systèmes.

Hello, Lisa, and thank you for joining us today.

Lisa: Hello, Clara.

Clara: It's really great to hear from you today.

Lisa: Yeah, sure. So my name is Lisa Belkhichane, and I am at Dassault Systèmes for three years. My role in the Aerospace and Defense industry is to gather and understand, together with customers and with the many other people at Dassault Systèmes, the major changes and trends towards sustainable aviation in order to align our solutions with the new industrial needs.

Clara: All right, thank you.


Lisa: Yes so first, I think it's important to recall that the aviation industry has been facing for decades the challenge of reducing its carbon footprint, and this industry has made significant progress in fuel efficiency. That's why, for instance, we will have a flight today which will generate just 50% of CO2 compared to the same flight back to 1990. And this improvement has been achieved in particular through incremental advancements on the engine, on the airframe, and also through the inclusion of new, lighter and efficient materials.

So the decarbonization is not something really new for the aviation industry. But it's right that today this industry is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to meet this really important objective, innovative aircraft and propulsion systems need to be developed and we will see totally new architecture coming in the following decades.

Clara: Lisa, could you tell us what that will look like?

Lisa: So if we give a panel of what is coming in the upcoming decades, we will see electric flight, especially for smaller aircrafts, and also more electrical aircraft for the short-range missions. This is particularly the case for the smaller aircrafts where we will see eVTOL –  so the electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft –  in the so-called urban air mobility market.

And Dassault Systèmes is really supporting these new pioneers of aviation like with Vertical Aerospace in the UK, Joby Aviation in the US or even Ascendance Flight Technologies in France.

Clara: So what can we do about longer distances?

Lisa: We have talked about smaller aircraft and when it comes to medium- and long-range destinations, but as well the medium-long end timeline – which means that for 2050 – we will see hydrogen propulsion considered as a really promising technology. Either in the form of a hydrogen fuel cell, which will empower electric engines or for combustion in order to increase thrust and also to be able to empower long-range aircraft.

So hydrogen is a key part of the solution, not only because of its unique property towards energy density, but also because it eliminates completely CO2 emissions in flight and can also be produced carbon-free if we are talking about green hydrogen. So this is more a matter of production here, but we will talk about that later. And this is, for instance, the important cornerstone, the hydrogen propulsion, which has been chosen by Airbus in the design of future zero-emission airplanes expected to be commercialized in 2035 in the ZEROe program at Airbus.

Clara: Okay! So to recap, electricity is only an option for shorter range travel, and hydrogen propulsion is best suited for longer distances.

Lisa: Yes, indeed. This shift to hydrogen is not without some challenges. If we stay at the aircraft level – just at the aircraft level – the most important concern is related to the onboarding of hydrogen storage itself. Compared to kerosene, the very low density together with the cryogenic characteristics of liquid hydrogen can result to very huge tank shapes that are really challenging to integrate into an aircraft.

We will probably see coming totally disrupted aircraft architecture for civil aviation like the blended-wing aircraft that is also part of the Airbus program, just in order to be able to store more hydrogen in the aircraft, in order to fulfill the long-range mission.

But other hydrogen systems – not only storage – but other hydrogen systems, will need to be improved like fuel cells. Fuel cells are also a key element in this hydrogen aircraft story, because just as hydrogen tanks, we cannot provide and develop hydrogen aircraft architecture without using a hydrogen fuel cell – either as a non-propulsive source of energy to empower all the electric consumers onboard or as a propulsive source of energy to empower electric engines. 

So in a way or another, we will have a hydrogen fuel cell onboard. And these fuel cells need to be improved in terms of performance. And so in order to achieve the power density – and to do so, we will need to work on these performances, and especially in the heat management of the fuel cell, on its materials and many other deep components of the fuel cell, just to be sure that it will meet its efficiency in terms of performance for particular long-range aircraft missions.

And if we talk about hydrogen combustion – so we were saying before that hydrogen combustion will be required for long-range missions where traditional engines will be, still the best suited for these kinds of missions. So even with hydrogen combustion, we will still have other challenges, especially towards non-CO2 emissions that will be emitted like nitrogen oxides or even water vapor, which contributes to contrails and to the environment at higher levels in the atmosphere.

Clara: Okay, so you talked about hydrogen storage, fuel cells and hydrogen combustion. I'm guessing that just like with planes that run on fossil fuels, an entire infrastructure is needed to make hydrogen-fueled planes work.

Lisa: Yes, you're right. This will require at first airports to reinvent their existing infrastructure and logistical systems. So not only airports, but also all the hydrogen value network. And this is really important because first, even at airports we will talk about hydrogen storage – it’s not only a matter of a hydrogen storage system in the aircraft, but also how to build efficient hydrogen systems at the airports in order to reach the mission to deliver on time the proper amount of hydrogen which is required for a mission.

So all the technological challenges that we have for hydrogen storage are still valuable for airport infrastructure, indeed. And on the other side, hydrogen must be transported from its producer to the airports. And here we are talking about all the supply chain and value network. And this is why a strong collaboration among the hydrogen value chain needs to exist first and to be optimized in order to reach all of these challenges successfully.

Lisa: The Virtual Twin experience is indeed the digital expression of the product or even the industrial system itself. In defining the way it is shaped, the way it behaves and the way it interacts with other systems. And it always starts from the earliest planning and design stages of the product lifecycle through manufacturing, operation, sustainment and disposal.

So that's why the Virtual Twin experience enables in particular Aerospace and Defense companies in the context of decarbonization to explore scenarios and in a collaborative manner – and in order to predict future behavior and deliver the right solution, at scale, the first time. With this Virtual Twin experience provided Dassault Systèmes, these companies can thus create live virtual replicas of hydrogen and battery electric systems we were talking about just earlier, but also virtual twins of the new aircraft architecture itself and even the virtual twin of the supply chain itself all before the real life application of such new aircrafts.

So that's why the 3DEXPERIENCE platform not only accelerates hydrogen aircraft design processes, but also it helps in the daily operation of airlines and all the aircraft stakeholders to optimize the supply chain and airport operations to be more efficient in the adoption of such new energies like hydrogen and also electric flight systems.

Clara: So I'm guessing that new hydrogen-fueled aircrafts come along with new certifications, which also means new challenges for the companies who design these systems, right?

Lisa: Yes. So aircraft certification standards are moving fast just as aircraft technologies are evolving too. And the commercialization of eVTOL aircrafts – so the new electric vertical and takeoff landing aircrafts – will be strongly dependent on the way the solution can reduce its acoustic signature and meet stringent certification for noise. So if we just recall that this eVTOL will be used also for urban air mobility, we will need to evaluate and assess the noise impacts in cities, and this is part of the certification process. And to meet these type certificates and new regulations that will be coming for such new aircrafts, we will need to have a new way of working that combines the expertise of stakeholders and also the acceleration of the whole certification process.

And that's why Dassault Systèmes is working on this digitalization of the whole certification process, both in the way the process can be – or the certification governance processes, but also through the acceleration of the adoption of virtual testing in order to accelerate and be more efficient in all the test pyramid phases that are required in the certification processes.

And the last point is the fact that regulators are also working to establish a certification process for this new aircraft solution. And this is why Dassault Systèmes also has the ambition through its model-based certification solution to be part of this work in collaboration with the certification agencies.

As an example, Dassault Systèmes is also working with the startup Blue Spirit Aero, which is relying on the power of the hydrogen fuel cell to be a catalyst in the entry into service of the hydrogen aircrafts by 2026 through the work of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform and also through the work of model-based certification.

Clara: That was so insightful. Lisa, thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. So we talked about the main pillars of sustainable aviation. You mentioned that Dassault Systèmes had the solutions to take part in all of these pillars, whether it is electricity, hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen combustion and storage, as well as the certification process. So thank you very much for all those insights, Lisa, that was very informative.

Lisa: Thank you. Thank you Clara.

Clara: For our listeners, tune in to our next episode where we’ll continue to talk about certification and supply chain challenges of hydrogen in aerospace. For more information, go to 3ds.com/cloud. Don’t forget to subscribe for more insights and stories from our guest experts!

Learn more

Ready to learn more?

Ready to be convinced?

See how the 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the cloud can transform your business.