The hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft will be one of the key players in meeting aviation emissions reduction requirements. ZeroAvia, one of the youngest companies most active in the development and research of zero-emission powertrains, boasts of having flown the world’s largest hydrogen-powered aircraft. It is a 19-seat Dornier 228 twin-engine that makes us fantasize about a future of clean-moving regional jets.
A Dornier 228, hydrogen powered. This mythical plane was born in the 80s as a twin combustion engine, although it is not the first time it has been adapted. It has been used for testing hybrid electric motors, and ZeroAvia has succeeded in getting it to fly with a fuel cell-based ZA600 powertrain.
This engine has been located on the left wing of the plane as a substitute for the Honeywell TPE-331 that it usually uses. On the right wing, it was following this Honeywell to work in conjunction with the hydrogen engine, so there has been some support during the flight. The hydrogen powertrain comprises two fuel cells.
10 minutes of glory. The flight took place at ZeroAvia’s R&D facilities, located at Cotswold Airport (Gloucerstershire, UK). 10 minutes of travel to complete the takeoff, flight and landing cycle. It is the largest ZeroAvia engine developed by the company, to power what has become the world’s largest fuel cell powered aircraft.
It is interesting to note that, in the case of ZeroAvia, hydrogen is not used as engine fuel. These hydrogen cells feed the fuel cells, which are responsible for transforming chemical energy into electricity and, precisely, it is an electric motor that moves the propellers. It is something relatively similar to what is being attempted in the automotive world, with gasoline engines that recharge electric motors, the latter being the ones that move the vehicle.
The short term goal. ZeroAvia has big plans for its hydrogen plane. This flight has only been a test, but the company is working on a 2-5 megawatt powertrain, intended for aircraft capable of carrying up to 90 passengers. They want to start tests this year, and organize their production. There are also less ambitious goals, such as the production of another 600 kW powertrain for flights from 9 to 19 seats. This latest project, the HyFlyer II, is supported by the UK Government’s ATI programme.
In the case of these test flights, the fuel tanks and power generation systems were located inside the cabin itself. When producing this technology for commercial use, these components will be stored outside the airframe.
The long-term goal. The roadmap seems well defined. The objective is to progressively increase both the capacity of the aircraft and the distance they can travel.
2025: First commercial flight of between 9 and 19 passengers, with a maximum distance of 555 km (regional flights). 2026: 40-80 passengers, range 1,852 km. 2030: 200 seats, range 3,704 km. 2035: 200 seats, range 5,556 km. 2040: more than 200 seats, range of 9,260.
ZeroAvia is not alone. This is not the only company in the race for the hydrogen plane. We recently talked about Jungfrau, a concept called by the company as a “hyperplane” and which has the ambition to cross the world in 90 minutes, multiplying the speed of sound by 15. Beyond the bizarre idea, it is an ambitious project with almost 30 million dollars as an investment.
Rolls Royce is also undergoing tests to develop hydrogen engines, based on the classic AE 2100 engine present, among others, in the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules. In the case of Rolls, his idea is not to use hydrogen cells that drive electric motors, but to directly use a hydrogen-powered motor.
Source and image | ZeroAvia
Leave a Reply