November 21, 2023 | Hydrogen utilisation at Hamburg Airport

Presenting the roadmap for the use of hydrogen at Hamburg Airport

  • On the way to liveable places – DLR and Hamburg Airport have presented the necessary steps for development of hydrogen infrastructure at medium-sized airports.
  • The growing demand for H2, the development of storage capacity and delivery methods on the ground have been outlined using Hamburg Airport as an example.
  • Focus: Transport, aeronautics, energy, hydrogen, climate-friendly flight

The mobility of people and goods clearly characterises today's cities. Transforming this mobility offers the opportunity to make cities and their transport hubs more attractive while reducing emissions. Air quality improves and the climate is protected. This will be possible if climate-friendly mobility concepts are also economically attractive. To this end, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is researching market launch strategies for innovative propulsion concepts such as synthetic fuels, electromobility and hydrogen. Together with Hamburg Airport, DLR has developed a roadmap for the use of hydrogen at airports as part of the Networked Mobility for Liveable Places (Vernetzte Mobilität für lebenswerte Orte; VMo4Orte ) project, so that the vision of Hamburg as a hydrogen centre can become a reality.

"Networked mobility for liveable places is an important guiding principle for DLR. We take challenges in the context of climate change, the energy transition and the transformation of mobility as an opportunity to develop solutions for both urban areas and the surrounding regions," says Meike Jipp, DLR Divisional Board Member for Energy and Transport. "We are developing ideas for vehicle and mobility concepts together with partners from industry, local authorities and transport companies. Airports are important hubs that can make a significant contribution to transforming the transport system and creating liveable places."

Hamburg Airport could play a pioneering role in the introduction of hydrogen. Michael Eggenschwiler, Chair of the Executive Board at Hamburg Airport says: "We want to lead the energy transition in air transport. There is no alternative to hydrogen. For this reason, we are already involved in several projects that will make a significant contribution to the transition to this clean energy source. If we want to enable the use of this new technology, we need to ensure that the infrastructure is developed and ready for use when the first aircraft enter service. This calls for not just the willingness of the airport operators and aircraft developers, but also of politicians – this is the only way we can set the necessary course together today."

Well-coordinated approach required for hydrogen introduction

This requires a systemic approach: The necessary infrastructure on the ground, the hydrogen delivery plans via land routes, the adjustment of airport processes and the technological development of aircraft are important prerequisites for success.

The roadmap that has been presented uses the example of Hamburg Airport to show how this can work. The topics range from the expected demand for hydrogen, the design of the hydrogen supply system and the costs that can be expected from today's perspective to practical aspects such as adapting the airport infrastructure and operational changes to airport processes.

Forecasts by the DLR Institute of Air Transport show that – provided politicians and industry set the right course – the first hydrogen-powered short-haul flights could be carried out as early as the 2030s. By 2050, the proportion of departures using hydrogen-powered aircraft in Hamburg could rise to 60 percent. This would then correspond to an annual hydrogen requirement at Hamburg Airport of 60,000 tonnes with a correspondingly substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Existing delivery routes and storage capacities as a prerequisite

In the first few years up to around 2040, it can be assumed that hydrogen will be supplied in small quantities using special tanker trucks. As demand increases, an additional supply via a pipeline connection will become necessary. Without a pipeline, an average of approximately 40 tankers per day would otherwise be needed to supply the airport with hydrogen in 2050. On peak days, this would be significantly more.

The delivery of hydrogen via pipeline will have to be in gaseous form due to the design of the system. As aircraft will primarily require hydrogen in liquid form for refuelling in the long term, a liquefaction plant will also be required to cover peak demand at the airport. In addition to the extra space, such a plant requires a substantial investment and very large amounts of electricity generated from renewable sources during operation.

Jan Eike Blohme-Hardegen, Head of the Environment Department at Hamburg Airport, explains: "The supply and storage of the amount of hydrogen required in the future will require a completely new infrastructure at our airport. We need to start preparing and building this infrastructure now if we want to establish climate-friendly propulsion systems for air transport in the near future." Tanks will be needed at the airport for the liquid hydrogen to provide a fuel buffer for approximately three days – as is the case today with conventional kerosene. Such cryogenic tanks are still quite rare worldwide and are so far mainly used by the space industry at rocket launch sites. The largest tanks to date are located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. For physics reasons, storage in a spherical tank is the most efficient solution. One such tank, for example, has a diameter of 34 metres with a capacity of approximately 400 tonnes and requires a footprint of around 900 square metres. Such a large tank could be needed at an airport like Hamburg as early as 2040, and two such tanks will probably be required by 2050.

The future supply of green hydrogen – that is hydrogen produced using energy from renewable sources – is heavily dependent on the global production potential for renewable energy and the resulting production and transport costs. The cost of hydrogen has a direct influence on demand, with aviation likely to compete with other sectors – particularly energy-intensive industries.

About the VMo4Orte project

In the Networked Mobility for Liveable Places (Vernetzte Mobilität für lebenswerte Orte; VMo4Orte) project, DLR is developing and testing solution components for a groundbreaking transformation of the transport system. To this end, the researchers are developing new mobility concepts. These have to be climate-friendly, cost-competitive, demand-orientated and accessible to local people. The researchers are supported in their endeavours by external experts. These include transport companies, local authorities and public institutions, as well as companies in the mobility and logistics sectors. They work together with the researchers from the outset and contribute requirements and experiences from their everyday activities. The ideas and concepts developed are implemented as examples in the form of demonstration projects. DLR is funding the VMo4Orte project over a period of three years with approximately 21 million euros. Nineteen DLR institutes and facilities are involved. The DLR Institute of Transport Research is leading the project.


Falk Dambowsky

Head of Media Relations, Editor
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-3959