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As the climate crisis intensifies, so does the pressure on the aviation industry to cut emissions. And now, the industry has taken it a step further, with a successful test flight of an electric hydrogen engine, which produces zero carbon emissions.
ZeroAvia’s twin-engine 19-seat Dornier 228 completed a test flight of about 10 minutes on Thursday in the UK. While 19 seats is, of course, small compared to regular passenger planes, it is the largest aircraft to have made a successful hydrogen-powered flight.
By using liquid hydrogen to fuel fuel cells, the technology eliminates carbon emissions during flight.
This is part of a race to decarbonize the aviation industry, which currently accounts for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions, although its overall contribution to the climate is estimated to be higher, due to the other gases and water vapor and emissions it emits.
Hydrogen has been identified as a promising fuel solution for aircraft because it does not produce greenhouse gases when burned. However, unless the hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, the process of creating it depends on fossil fuels.
The Dornier 228 was modified with a full-size prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain, which contained two fuel cell assemblies, on the aircraft’s left wing. Lithium-ion battery packs bolstered support during takeoff, while hydrogen tanks and fuel cell power generation systems were located inside the cabin, with the seats removed.
Half of the power came from the fuel cells, and the other half from the battery packs, a company representative confirmed at a post-flight news conference.
The right wing carried a normal engine, for safety reasons – although it was not used in flight.
Starting at Cotswold Airport, the aircraft completed a taxi, takeoff and full modular circuit, all on a hydrogen-electric engine. It reached a speed of 120 knots, or 139 miles per hour. “All systems worked as expected,” the company said in a press release.
For commercial flights, of course, hydrogen tanks and fuel cell power generation systems will be located on the outside of the aircraft. The company now aims to finish the configuration and submit it for accreditation by the end of the year.
At a press conference, a company representative said there were no plans “at the moment” to install hydrogen electric actuators (the machinery that drives the aircraft, including the fuel tanks and engine) on both wings, but added, “Anything is possible, and we’re learning.” The company has not yet confirmed the launch of its aircraft.
The ZeroAvia flight is part of the UK government-backed HyFlyer II project, which aims to develop a 600 kW powertrain to allow zero-emissions flight for the 9-19 seat aircraft, and is targeting a range of 300 nautical miles. The flight was conducted under a full Part 21 flying permit with the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
The company has come a long way since September 2020, when it completed a hydrogen-powered six-seater Piper Malibu, using a 250kW hydrogen powertrain. It has since completed more than 30 smaller engine flights.
The company — which already has partnerships with seven aircraft manufacturers — has 1,500 pre-orders for various engine variants, according to founder and CEO Val Miftakhov at the press conference. Up to 700 of them are for the engine size that was tried in the UK on Thursday. “We know the market is there for that,” he added, “now it’s all about pushing this into the final design.”
The company aims to serve commercial flights using the technology by 2025. It also aims to expand the technology to larger 90-seat aircraft, with “further expansion” into narrowbodies in the next decade, they said in a statement. By 2027, they aim to be able to fly a 700-mile flight in a 40-80 seat aircraft.
The latter is not an easy task.
While hydrogen-powered aircraft have been in development since the mid-20th century, they have faced significant hurdles, notably hydrogen’s lower energy density by volume than kerosene—meaning it would take up about four times the space of jet fuel—and the latter’s historically low availability and price.
The infrastructure needed to produce and distribute hydrogen is also an issue. At this year’s Airbus Summit, an industry event hosted by the aircraft maker, Airbus chief Guillaume Faury warned that this was a “major concern” and could derail the company’s plans to introduce hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2035.
Airbus announced its plans in December to Hydrogen fuel cell engine test on the A380 in 2026.
Days before Airbus’ announcement, Rolls-Royce and low-cost airline EasyJet said they had successfully converted an ordinary aircraft engine to run on liquid hydrogen fuel. world firstthey claimed.
Meanwhile, other companies are developing technology aimed at delivering electric aircraft. Muftakhuf said CNN in 2020 Compared to “the wildest predictions for battery technology,” hydrogen has more potential than electric competitors in zero-emissions flight.
Meanwhile, ZeroAvia’s Dornier 228 will conduct a series of test flights from Kemble, in the UK’s Lake District, before moving on to test flights from other airports.
In a statement, Muftakhov said: “This is an important moment, not only for ZeroAvia, but for the aviation industry as a whole, as it shows that a truly zero-emission commercial flight is only a few years away.
“The first flight of our 19-seat aircraft shows the viability of our technology and highlights the rapid progression of zero-emission propulsion. This is just the beginning – we are building a future of aviation that is sustainable and climate-free.”
Calling it “a great day, not just for ZeroAvia or the airline but for the world,” he added at a news conference. [contribution] It’s getting bigger and bigger for climate change and we really need solutions.”
represents a fast growing industry 2.1% of man-made carbon emissions worldwideaccording to the Air Transport Working Group, and 3.5% of global warming emissions in total.
“Today we witnessed a huge step towards achieving this goal [of decarbonization]He said at the press conference.
“There is still a way to go but let’s celebrate the achievement.”
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