Aerospace company ZeroAvia has successfully tested the use of a hydrogen-electric engine to power one of the propellers on a 19-seat aircraft.
January 20, 2023
A plane with an experimental hydrogen-electric engine in its left wing successfully completed a test flight this week. It is the largest vessel of its kind to be moved with the help of a hydrogen engine.
UK- and US-based company ZeroAvia performed a 10-minute test flight using an engine that converts hydrogen fuel into electricity to power one of the plane’s two propellers. ZeroAvia aims to allow commercial flights powered only by hydrogen fuel cells by 2025.
“When people see that we can fly zero-emissions on a clean fuel that we can create in so many places, wherever there’s electricity and water, it changes people’s minds about things,” says Jacob Leachman of Washington State. University.
The demonstration at Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, UK also marked the first flight of the 19-seat Dornier 228 aircraft which was converted into a test aircraft. It’s a significantly larger aircraft than the six-seater Piper Malibu that ZeroAvia has used to test the hydrogen electric engine since 2020.
If all goes well with subsequent testing, ZeroAvia aims to submit the hydrogen electric engine for regulatory certification in 2023. This could also pave the way for a larger engine suitable for 90-seat aircraft.
“There have been tests of smaller-scale hydrogen fuel cell aircraft, and whenever we’ve been able to demonstrate higher power levels in larger aircraft, we’ve learned,” says Kiruba Haran of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The aviation start-up already has an investment from American Airlines along with an agreement for the possibility of ordering up to 100 hydrogen-electric engines in the future.
Airbus, one of the world’s two largest aircraft manufacturers, also previously announced plans to use hydrogen fuel in the development of the first zero-emissions commercial aircraft by 2035. But Airbus acknowledged that most commercial aircraft would still use turbine engines. gas until at least 2050.
Moving commercial aviation to truly zero-emissions flights would require much more than just switching from traditional jet fuel to hydrogen fuel. Producing hydrogen fuel also requires electricity that could still come from a fossil fuel-powered electrical grid – although researchers are looking for ways to more cleanly produce hydrogen in quantities high enough to power fleets of aircraft.
“When you really think about trying sustainable hydrogen-based aviation, you have to figure out how to get hydrogen to scale,” says John Hansman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “And we are talking about a lot of hydrogen.”
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