April 15, 2024
The World’s Largest Hydrogen Electric Aircraft Completed A 10-Minute Flight

As the climate crisis worsens, the aviation industry has pledged to provide sustainable transportation by achieving zero-emission flights by 2050.

Aviation, which is many people’s preferred mode of transportation, is responsible for approximately 2.5% of global co2 emissions, with most aircraft powered by jet gasoline.

Unfortunately, aviation is one of the most difficult industries to decarbonize. Before the pandemic, which grounded much of the world’s aircraft, aviation accounted for about 2.4% of global emissions.

According to the European Commission, if no drastic measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, from aviation by the middle of the 21st century, demand for flying could increase emissions by up to 300% over 2005 levels.

The aerospace industry is working on a variety of technologies, including sustainable aviation fuels. New technologies such as electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft are being developed to achieve low-carbon travel. All flights of less than 2500 miles, which account for more than half of all co2 emissions from aviation, could be electrified or powered by hydrogen, according to estimates.

This is no longer a pipe dream, the industry has advanced with a successful test flight of a hydrogen-electric engine that emits no carbon emissions. And therefore, flying with zero carbon emissions has proven to be a success.

Zero Avia is a zero-emission aviation company that creates planes with hydrogen-electric propulsion. The company currently operates in the United Kingdom and the United States, and it has previously obtained experimental certificates for prototype aircraft from both the CAA and FAA.

Zero Avia, a British American hydrogen electric aircraft developer, successfully flew the world’s largest hydrogen electric aircraft, a Dornier 228 regional aircraft powered by an electric motor and hydrogen fuels cells, for the first time.

The 19-seat, twin-engine Dornier 228 plane completed a 10-minute flight from ZeroAvia’s R&D facility at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire in the United Kingdom, equipped with a prototype hydrogen-electric power train. It was part of the HyFlyer II project, government-funded research, and development program aimed at making small passenger planes more environmentally friendly.

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The engine was powered by “compressed gaseous hydrogen produced by an onsite electrolyzer”. The European Marine Energy Centre’s electrolyzer at the airport produced hydrogen gas for the powertrain.

The testing configuration used two fuel cell stacks and lithium-ion battery packs, which were housed in the cabin. They would, however, be moved to external storage for commercial use to make room for seating. The two fuel cell stacks were running on the aircraft’s left wing. 

It was also paired with a Honeywell TPE-331 stock engine on the right wing for additional power during takeoff and safety-related redundancy.

This accomplishment brings the aviation industry one step closer to meeting its goal of using only hydrogen fuel cell power for commercial flights by 2025 and achieving sustainable Aviation.

The announcement of Zero Avia follows a test firing of a hydrogen-powered jet engine by Rolls-Royce and Easyjet late last year, with Airbus following up with news that its hydrogen-powered wide-body Jumbo jet, developed in collaboration with ArianeGroup, is expected to be ready for testing within a few years.

Since its inception, Zero Avia has received approximately $150 million in funding from a variety of high-profile investors, including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, as well as agreements with British Airways, United Airlines, and Shell, which supplies it with hydrogen. Amazon has also invested in the company as part of its climate pledge fund.

The startup stated that the flight performed as expected with what was its largest hydrogen engine tested to date, having flown many tests of a six-seat prototype over the past few years.

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It aims for a 300-mile range for aircraft with nine to 19 seats by 2025, with a 700-mile range in 40-80 seat aircraft by 2027.

According to Val Miftakhov, the company’s founder and CEO, pre-orders for 1,500 engines have been received, including from American Airlines and United Airlines. It also has agreements with seven aircraft manufacturers, several green hydrogen producers, and airports such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Edmonton international in Canada.

Zero Avia hopes to have its system certified by 2025, with plans for commercial routes.

In addition, the company is working on a 2-5 MW ZA – 2000 powertrain program that will scale the technology for aircraft with up to 90 seats, to expand into narrow-body planes in the next decade. 

A version for jet propulsion is also being considered for a later stage.

The company will announce the launch operators. It will, however, require additional funds to support the full-scale commercialization of its engines.

“This is a significant moment, not just for Zero Avia, but for the aviation industry as a whole, as it demonstrates that true zero-emission commercial flight is only a few years away,” says the CEO. The first flight of the 19-seat aircraft demonstrates the scalability of technology and highlights the rapid advancements of zero-emission propulsion.

Is hydrogen practical for flights?

Hydrogen has been identified as a promising plane fuel solution because it emits no greenhouse gases when burned. However, unless hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, the process relies on fossil fuels.

The production of hydrogen gas is a relatively simple process, and there are potential sizeable hurdles for the air industry.

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To be used in aircraft, hydrogen would most likely have to be liquified, which requires an energy-intensive process of cooling it to nearly -253 degrees celsius.

According to Michael Liebreich, a clean energy expert, liquifying 7,500 tonnes of hydrogen per day to meet Heathrow’s fuel needs would require approximately 2.8GW of electricity which is similar to the output of Hinkley point C.

Geopolitical analyst Irina Tsukerman stated that, while hydrogen is one of the hottest items in the long-term pursuit of renewables, it requires 4 times the volume of conventional jet fuel for the same amount of power.

However, future aircraft may need to be redesigned to accommodate the space issue as well as safe transportation.

The main disadvantage of hydrogen is weight.

Wrapping up

Besides hydrogen fuels, airlines are also investing in biofuels and synthetic fuels, such as jet fuel from captured co2 that is usable in existing planes. However, while the fuels may be carbon neutral, they emit other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, soot, and water vapor, all of which contribute significantly to climate change.

Other companies are working on battery-powered electric planes, but due to the weight and size of the batteries, only small planes and short flights are feasible.

So far, only hydrogen fuel has made electric planes viable for more passengers and longer distances, the types of flights that are currently most common and responsible for the most emissions.

The first flight of the 19-seat aircraft demonstrates a future of sustainable, zero-carbon aviation. The hydrogen approach is the best way to scale up clean aviation. With the first successful test, this is an exciting time for aviation as well as zero-emission mobility.

This article first appeared on Engadget.

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