The future of low-carbon aviation received a big boost on Friday when ZeroAvia completed a 10-minute test flight with hydrogen fuel cells. The 19-seater is the largest aircraft that has flown with hydrogen.
The modified Dornier 228’s propulsion system was actually hybrid, a combination of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, which powered the plane’s left engine. The right engine used conventional aircraft fuel. The aircraft is part of the company’s HyFlyer II project.
“This is putting us straight on the path to commercial launches,” said Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia founder and CEO, following the flight’s success. “This first flight shows just how scalable our technology is and highlights the rapid progress of zero-emission propulsion.”
Hydrogen fuel cells could represent a low-carbon-emissions, or even emissions-free, path to sustainable aviation. Both Embraer and Airbus said they will have aircraft fueled by hydrogen in service by 2035.
Miftakhov said ZeroAvia has received more than 1,500 pre-orders for hydrogen fuel-cell systems. The company has flown test flights for several years, with different degrees of success. Last week’s test flight had been delayed from the summer of 2022. In December, the company received permits from the UK’s aviation authorities that green-lighted the aircraft for the test flight. The modified Dornier 228 took off from Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire, UK. The seats were taken out for the fuel-cell propulsion system and storage tanks.
During the test flight, the batteries supplied about 50 percent of the power to the left engine and the fuel-cell system supplied the other 50 percent.
Miftakhov said the company is on track for the commercial launch of its 600kW powertrain in 2025. He didn’t say what type of aircraft would be used for the first systems, but said it will have 10 to 20 seats, with a range of 300 miles.
Despite its positive traits, hydrogen has limitations for aviation because of the weight of the fuel cells. It will initially be used in smaller aircraft with regional uses. ZeroAvia is also developing a two to five megawatt version of the propulsion system for larger aircraft, capable of carrying 90 passengers, with a range of 700 miles.
Zero Avia has competition in the hydrogen race. US-based Universal Hydrogen is reportedly planning test flights on a 50-seat aircraft for early this year with its hydrogen fuel-cell system.