Universal Hydrogen has chosen Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the site of a major new manufacturing and distribution centre to support the transition of regional turboprop airliners to green hydrogen propulsion. The company plans to develop a 50-acre (20-hectare) site at the state’s largest airport, Albuquerque International Sunport, to produce hydrogen storage capsules, which can be transported direct to airports and loaded onto aircraft, negating the need for complex distribution infrastructure and refuelling facilities, reports Tony Harrington. Universal also plans to use the Albuquerque site to assemble kits to convert conventionally-powered aircraft to hydrogen systems. In a parallel development, Australia’s Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), a key partner of and shareholder in Universal Hydrogen, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus to explore the use of liquid hydrogen and power-to-liquid fuels for air transport. Under an agreement signed late last year, FFI will supply green hydrogen to Universal until 2035 for use in regional aviation.
The Albuquerque facility will be constructed on land previously occupied by a runway, which the airport decommissioned in 2012. Universal Hydrogen will spend up to two years planning and building the new plant, in readiness for full-scale production by 2024. The company plans to introduce the first of its transportable hydrogen capsules into commercial service by 2025, subject to certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration, and has already signed agreements with 11 operators to convert almost 100 regional aircraft to the new propulsion system.
“Hydrogen is the best and only scalable solution to truly decarbonise aviation,” said Jon Gordon, co-founder and General Counsel of Universal Hydrogen. “We want to bring it to market decades sooner than anyone thought possible, by 2025.” Construction is expected to create up to 1,200 jobs, while Universal Hydrogen plans to employ up to 500 specialist staff by 2029.
The State of New Mexico has pledged an initial $10 million from the job creation fund of its Local Economic Development Act, while the City of Albuquerque is considering providing further assistance. The funding will be subject to Universal’s achievement of economic development benchmarks, specified in a project participation agreement.
Australia-based Universal partner Fortescue Future Industries has joined forces with Airbus to investigate the challenges to aviation of hydrogen regulations, supply, infrastructure and fuelling, from production of the fuel to its transfer onto aircraft.
Airbus will provide the characteristics of fleet energy usage, scenarios for hydrogen demand in air transport, refuelling specifications and aviation regulatory framework, similar to partnerships it is already undertaking with airlines including Korean Air and Air New Zealand, while FFI will provide details of cost and technology throughout the supply chain and develop infrastructure deployment scenarios for the provision of green hydrogen supplies to specific airports.
Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus VP Zero Emission Aircraft, said: “Partnerships and cross-sectoral approaches are a necessity to make zero-emission aviation a reality. Airbus is preparing itself to put a zero-emission aircraft in service by 2035. But this will only be possible if we can ensure enough green hydrogen is produced worldwide.”
FFI Founder and Chairman Dr Andrew Forrest added: “The time is now for a green revolution in the aviation industry. This exciting collaboration brings together leaders in the aviation industry with leaders in green energy for a better, greener, cleaner future.”
The FFI-Universal Hydrogen partnership includes a global offtake arrangement through which FFI will supply green hydrogen to Universal to power regional and other aviation sectors until 2035, a scoping study to develop green hydrogen production and logistics hubs in Iceland, New Zealand and Australia, and a region-by-region evaluation of green hydrogen demand in the aviation sector, to help identify and promote the use of green hydrogen.
“This agreement will help ensure that we have adequate supply of green hydrogen globally to fuel not only regional aviation in the 2020s, but to support the entry into service of a hydrogen single-aisle airplane in the 2030s,” said Paul Eremenko, CEO of Universal Hydrogen. “Through the investment of companies like FFI, we expect green hydrogen to be at cost parity with jet fuel on an equivalent energy basis by the mid-2020s, and to be significantly cheaper in the years that follow.”
FFI CEO Julie Shuttleworth said the Universal partnership reinforced the potential of hydrogen as “a powerful fuel for a range of difficult-to-decarbonise industries,” adding that “demand for green hydrogen in the aviation industry is expected to grow exponentially as new climate targets are set globally.”
Photo: Universal Hydrogen has just completed ground testing of its 1MW Iron Bird