While hydrogen-fueled cars are still being watched, hydrogen-powered aircraft are already ready to take off.
The latest financing that has attracted global attention comes from the American hydrogen-electric aircraft company ZeroAvia, which has just received its largest funding since its establishment.
Behind this round of financing are French Airbus and British Barclays Capital. Another investor that must be mentioned is the Middle East consortium Saudi New Future City NEOM.
After completing this round of financing, ZeroAvia will certify its first hydrogen electric engine, the 600kW ZA600 system, and will then develop a larger engine project, the ZA2000, a 2-5.4 MW platform. At the beginning of this year, ZeroAvia has completed the test flight of a hydrogen fuel cell aircraft. As funds become more abundant, zero-emission aircraft are getting closer and closer to us.
What’s even more interesting is that there are many big names who support ZeroAvia, such as Bill Gates, Li Ka-shing…
Experienced a crash and just completed the first flight of the largest hydrogen-powered aircraft
Like cars, aircraft are also facing the transformation requirements of low-carbon and environmental protection, and many start-ups are also targeting this field.
The original intention of ZeroAvia’s establishment was to transform the highly polluting aviation industry into a clean industry.
In 2017, ZeroAvia was established in California, USA, and later established research and development flight bases in the United States and the United Kingdom, mainly to develop new aviation powertrains based on hydrogen fuel cells.
Unlike other hydrogen airlines, ZeroAvia develops hydrogen-electric hybrid aircraft. ZeroAvia believes that replacing the existing aircraft engine architecture with hydrogen fuel cells will be a faster and more efficient solution.
Their project is part of the UK government-sponsored HyFlyer II research and development program, which aims to make small passenger aircraft more environmentally friendly. According to ZeroAvia’s vision, they will complete technical verification this year and open commercial routes by 2025.
ZeroAvia has now obtained test flight certificates from the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They hope to launch a complete hydrogen energy aircraft solution in the 2030s.
What’s interesting is that the hydrogen-electric aircraft they developed are basically modified based on prototypes from other companies.
In other words, they do not build aircraft, but they will help airlines build more environmentally friendly aircraft.
In September 2020, ZeroAvia completed the world’s first test flight of a commercial aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells. At that time, a 6-seat aircraft took off from its research and development center in Cranfield, England, and flew in the sky for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. .
However, the development of ZeroAvia was not smooth sailing. In April 2021, a hydrogen-powered ZeroAvia test aircraft suddenly crashed after losing power during a flight test.
Their plan was to reach an altitude of 1,000 feet (305 meters) with both batteries and fuel cells activated, then switch the aircraft to using only the fuel cells. After turning off the batteries, the aircraft lost all drive to the propellers. .
There was a pilot and a flight test observer on board at the time, but fortunately, the two were not injured at the time. An investigation into the cause of the accident found that as ZeroAvia expanded its flight range to test higher speeds, the voltage generated by the freely rotating propellers increased to a point where it triggered the inverter’s overvoltage protection, shutting down the battery-powered system. .
In the end, the British Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) concluded that the accident had nothing to do with the hydrogen fuel cell power system, and ZeroAvia’s reputation was saved.
On January 19, 2023, ZeroAvia’s hydrogen fuel cell technology demonstrator aircraft modified based on the 19-seat Dornier 228 twin-engine turboprop aircraft successfully made its first flight in the UK. This was also the first flight of the largest “hydrogen electric” aircraft in history.
The flight lasted 10 minutes. The turboprop engine on the left side of the aircraft was replaced by an electric motor developed by ZeroAvia and a hydrogen fuel cell stack provided by PowerCell. A Honeywell TPE-331 engine was retained on the right side. .
Next, ZeroAvia will advance the large-scale project – ZA2000, which has a 2-5.4 MW power system and is designed for large commercial aircraft. The next step in the project is to work with Alaska Airlines to test a modified Dash 8400 aircraft that can carry 76 passengers and conduct its first flight test with a full-scale engine in 2024.
Gates and Li Ka-shing have both invested in the projects that the richest man likes
Of course, ZeroAvia’s rapid growth in a short period of time cannot be separated from the shoulders of giants.
If you study the investors of this company, you will find that there are many big names. Breakthrough Energy Ventures has appeared in ZeroAvia’s financing history more than once.
In the latest round of financing, Breakthrough Energy Ventures also appeared on the financing list as a participating investor.
In fact, as early as 2020, the first financing ZeroAvia received was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, completing a Series A financing of US$21 million.
Who is Breakthrough Energy Ventures?
This is a venture capital institution founded by Bill Gates in 2015. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates, is known as the “Breakthrough Energy Coalition” in the industry because of its extremely strong investor lineup. Dream Team”.
At the same time, Horizons Ventures has appeared on the ZeroAvia list more than once, which is Li Ka-shing’s industry.
ZeroAvia’s second round of financing was led by Li Ka-shing’s Horizon Venture, with Breakthrough Energy Coalition continuing to invest.
After that, it also attracted new strategic investors British Airways and United Airlines.
With the support of two richest men and two major airlines, ZeroAvia has become a star start-up company for hydrogen-electric aircraft.
It is the support of these capitals that gives ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Miftakhov more confidence.
In addition to this funding, ZeroAvia has previously received a total of US$115 million in financing.
Miftakhov said that commercialization will be gradually implemented in 2024. The initial goal is to build a 10-20-seat hydrogen aircraft with a range of 800 kilometers – able to meet the endurance needs of short-distance regional aircraft, while the long-term goal is to provide Develop hydrogen power systems for aircraft with 100-150 seats, which will become the “main force” in the future aviation field.
Hydrogen-powered aircraft are accelerating into the sky, and Toyota and Mitsubishi are also increasing their investment
The aviation industry is definitely one of the major emitters that contribute to global warming.
Aviation and shipping As the main users of fossil fuels, the aviation industry has become the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than 2% of global emissions.
At the current growth rate, the carbon emissions of global airlines will account for a quarter of global carbon emissions by 2050.
In this industry, which is the most difficult to decarbonize, electrification technology is far from being able to propel aircraft or move large ships, so hydrogen, a completely clean fuel, is beginning to gain momentum.
Technical experts are also forming a consensus that hydrogen energy will be the best solution to ensure that zero-emission flight can become a reality.
As Andy Challis, head of Sustainable Capital at ZeroAvia investor Barclays, said, replacing fossil fuels with green hydrogen has been identified as a key decarbonization pathway for hard-to-abate sectors such as aviation.
Today, various consortiums are also beginning to increase their investment.
For example, Universal Hydrogen, which is also a start-up hydrogen aircraft company, is also doing well. If ZeroAvia is backed by Bill Gates and Li Ka-shing, Universal Hydrogen is backed by Airbus, Toyota, Mitsubishi and domestic companies. of Tencent.
At present, Universal Hydrogen has signed purchase letters of intent with airlines such as Icelandair, Air Nostrum and Ravn Alaska, and aircraft leasing company ASL Aviation.
Universal Hydrogen’s model is somewhat similar to ZeroAvia, which mainly develops hydrogen storage solutions and conversion kits for commercial aircraft.
In addition, there is H2FLY, which recently completed the world’s first manned flight of an electric aircraft using liquid hydrogen.
H2FLY is a company based in Stuttgart, Germany, founded in 2015 by five engineers from the German Aerospace Center in Stuttgart and the University of Ulm.
Unlike the above two, H2FLY mainly focuses on using liquid hydrogen as fuel, and has currently received financial support from multiple German ministries and commissions as well as the “Project HEAVEN” (Project HEAVEN).
Whether powered by hydrogen or liquid hydrogen, there is no doubt that hydrogen-powered aircraft are ready to take to the skies.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and its appeal to the automotive and aerospace industries that rely on fossil fuels is obvious, and hydrogen fuel cells use compressed hydrogen as fuel and the emissions are just water vapor.
It is true that from the perspective of the automotive industry, the progress of hydrogen-powered vehicles has been limited by technology and cost. For example, the production, storage, and transportation costs of hydrogen are very high. However, hydrogen energy is expected to gain greater application space in the aviation field.
Although it will take some time, hydrogen-powered aircraft are indeed already flying.