Universal Hydrogen takes to the air with the biggest hydrogen fuel cell ever to fly

Universal Hydrogen takes to the air with the biggest hydrogen fuel cell ever to fly

universally Outfitted with the biggest hydrogen gas cell ever to energy an plane, the hydrogen-branded plane made its first check flight in jap Washington, co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko has declared the daybreak of “a brand new golden age of aviation.”

The 15-minute check flight of a modified Sprint-8 plane was brief, however confirmed that hydrogen may very well be appropriate as a gas for short-jump airliners. That’s, if Common Hydrogen – and others within the rising world of hydrogen flight – might make the technical and regulatory progress wanted to make it a mainstream product.

A staple at regional airports, Sprint-8s usually carry as much as 50 passengers on brief hop-on flights. Sprint-8’s cargo used on Thursday’s check flight from Grant County Worldwide Airport at Moses Lake was decidedly completely different. Nicknamed the Lightning McClean, the Common Hydrogen check airplane had solely two pilots, an engineer, and lots of technicians, together with an electrical motor and hydrogen gas cell provided by two different startups.

The stripped-down inside contained two cabinets of electronics and sensors, and two giant hydrogen tanks containing 30kg of gas. Beneath the airplane’s proper wing, an electrical motor from magniX was powered by Plug Energy’s new hydrogen gas cell. This technique turns hydrogen into electrical energy and water – an emission-free energy plant that Eremenko believes represents the way forward for aviation.

The gas cell ran all through the flight, producing as much as 800kW of energy and producing nothing however water vapor and smiles on the faces of a crowd of Common Hydrogen engineers and traders.

“We predict it is a fairly monumental achievement,” Eremenko mentioned. “Having probably the primary licensed hydrogen plane in passenger service retains us heading in the right direction.”

Aviation at present contributes about 2.5% of worldwide carbon emissions and is predicted to develop by 4% yearly.

Nonetheless utilizing jet gas

The Common Hydrogen model plane was additionally based mostly on jet gas. Notice the Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine beneath the only wing. Picture Sources: Mark Harris

A profitable check flight doesn’t suggest that all-zero-carbon aviation is simply across the nook.

A typical Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine was working beneath the Sprint-8’s different wing (observe the distinction within the photograph above), with about twice the ability of the gas cell facet. This redundancy helped easy the street, with the FAA issuing an experimental particular airworthiness certificates for Sprint-8 testing in early February.

Michael Bockler, one of many check pilots, informed TechCrunch that the airplane “flies like a daily Sprint-8 with a slight yaw.” At one level, he famous that in degree flight, the airplane flew virtually totally on gas cell energy with the turboprop engine throttled.

“Till each engines run on hydrogen, it is only a demonstration,” mentioned a senior engineer who advises the sustainable aviation trade. “However I do not need to make enjoyable of it as a result of we want these steps to study.”

A part of the issue with right now’s gas cells is that cooling them may be troublesome. Jet engines run a lot hotter, however they expel most of that warmth from their exhausts. As a result of gas cells use an electrochemical response reasonably than merely burning hydrogen, waste warmth should be eliminated via a system of warmth exchangers and air flow.

ZeroAvia, one other startup creating hydrogen gas cells for aviation, dropped its first flying prototype in 2021 after shutting the gas cell in mid-air to permit it to chill, after which did not restart. ZeroAvia has since taken off once more with a hybrid hydrogen/fossil gas setup much like that of Common Hydrogen, albeit in a smaller twin-engine plane.

Mark Cousin, CTO of Common Hydrogen, informed TechCrunch that the gas cell can run all day with out overheating because of the big air ducts.

One other subject for gas cell airplanes is to retailer the hydrogen wanted to fly. Even in its most dense, supercooled liquid kind, hydrogen comprises solely a couple of quarter of the power of an identical quantity of jet gas. Wing tanks usually are not giant sufficient for any however the shortest flights and thus gas should be saved contained in the fuselage. Right this moment’s 15-minute flight used about 16kg of gaseous hydrogen—half the quantity saved within the two motorcycle-sized tanks within the passenger compartment. Common Hydrogen plans to transform the check plane to run on liquid hydrogen later this yr.

making a module

universal hydrogen module

A Common Hydrogen module. Picture Sources: Mark Harris

Eremenko based Common Hydrogen in 2020, and the corporate has raised $20.5 million in a 2021 Sequence A funding spherical led by Playground International. Funding up to now is approaching $100 million, together with investments from Airbus, Normal Electrical, American Airways, JetBlue and Toyota. The corporate’s headquarters are situated in Hawthorne, California, simply above SpaceX and with an engineering facility in Toulouse, France.

Common Hydrogen will now run additional exams at Moses Lake. The corporate will work on further software program growth and finally convert the plane to make use of liquid hydrogen. Early subsequent yr, the plane will doubtless be retired, with the gas cell making its technique to the Smithsonian Air and House Museum in Washington, DC.

Common Hydrogen hopes to start delivery gas cell conversion kits for regional plane such because the Sprint-8 in 2025. The corporate has already obtained roughly 250 retrofit orders valued at over $1 billion from 16 clients, together with Air New Zealand. “The partnership gives the quickest path to zero-emissions operation for the worldwide airline trade,” mentioned John Thomas, CEO of Join Airways, which plans to develop into the primary US service to make use of Common Hydrogen know-how.

Common Hydrogen not solely manufactures razor blades, it additionally sells blades.

Nearly the entire hydrogen used right now is produced on the level of consumption. It’s because not solely is hydrogen simply leaked and might injury standard metal containers, however at its most helpful – a compact liquid – it’s saved solely 20 levels above absolute zero and sometimes requires costly refrigeration.

The liquid hydrogen used within the Moses Lake check got here from a business “inexperienced hydrogen” fuel provider – which means it was made utilizing renewable power. Solely a really small a part of the hydrogen produced right now is produced this manner.

If the hydrogen financial system is really to make a dent within the local weather disaster, inexperienced hydrogen must develop into a lot simpler and cheaper to provide, retailer and transport.

Eremenko began Common Hydrogen initially to design standardized hydrogen modules that may be towed by normal semi vehicles and simply hooked up to airplanes or different automobiles for fast use. The present design can maintain hydrogen liquid for as much as 100 hours, typically evaluating them to the comfort of Nespresso items. Common Hydrogen says it has obtained over $2 billion in gas service orders over the following ten years.

prototype modules Shown in Decemberand the corporate hopes to interrupt floor for a 630,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for them in Albuquerque, New Mexico, later this yr. This roughly $400 million mission relies on the success of a beforehand unreported $200 million US Division of Vitality mortgage utility. Eremenko says the applying has handed the primary section of due diligence work inside the DOE.

a protracted runway

Some consultants doubt that hydrogen could have a major influence on aviation emissions. Bernard van Dijk, an aeronautical scientist, Hydrogen Science Coalitionappreciates the simplicity of Common Hydrogen modules, however notes that even NASA has had bother controlling hydrogen leaks with their rockets. “You continue to have to connect the containers to the airplane. How will every part be secure? As a result of if it leaks and somebody lights a match, it is a recipe for catastrophe,” he says. “I feel they’re additionally underestimating the entire certification course of for a brand new hydrogen powertrain.”

Even when these obstacles are overcome, there’s nonetheless the issue of manufacturing sufficient inexperienced hydrogen utilizing renewable electrical energy at a worth that individuals are prepared to play with. “If you wish to do all of the flights in Europe with hydrogen, you will want 89,000 giant wind generators to provide sufficient hydrogen,” says Van Dijk. “They might cowl an space about twice the dimensions of the Netherlands.”

However Eremenko stays satisfied that Common Hydrogen and its companions could make it work with the assistance of a $3-per-kilogram subsidy for inexperienced hydrogen in Biden’s Inflation Discount Act. “One of many issues that retains me up at night time,” he says, “is the fee and availability of inexperienced hydrogens is just not certainly one of them.”

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