American Airlines has announced a strategic investment in distribution and logistics group Universal Hydrogen, the airline’s second hydrogen propulsion partnership in just a few months. Universal Hydrogen offers modular hydrogen capsules transported directly to airports for loading onto the aircraft they will fuel, eliminating the need for fixed fuelling infrastructure. Test flights are expected to begin by the end of this year using a DHC Dash 8-300 testbed aircraft, with deliveries of Universal’s hydrogen fuel capsules expected to commence from 2025, initially for regional planes but with plans to progress to larger single-aisle aircraft. In August, American invested in hydrogen powertrain company ZeroAvia and signed an MoU to acquire up to 100 of its ZA-2000RJ hydrogen-electric engines to retrofit regional jets. American’s investments in Universal and ZeroAvia coincide with the growing interest in hydrogen propulsion. Last month, Universal announced a Danish collaboration with regional carrier DAT and energy production and distribution company Everfuel for zero-emission domestic flights.
Commenting on its Universal deal, American Airlines CFO Derek Kerr said: “This technology has the potential to be a game-changer on the industry’s path to zero-emission flight. As the world’s largest airline, American has a responsibility to exercise leadership in making aviation sustainable. Our investment in Universal Hydrogen represents a vote of confidence for green hydrogen as a key element of a sustainable future for our industry.”
American said the move made it the first airline in the US to make two direct investments focused on the development of both hydrogen-electric propulsion technology and the future of hydrogen distribution logistics, and supported its science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and the commitment to net zero GHG emissions by 2035.
Paul Eremenko, co-founder and CEO of Universal Hydrogen, stated the company was collaborating with strategic investors to make hydrogen propulsion “a near-term commercial reality” for the airline industry. In addition to American, its shareholders include Airbus Ventures, GE Aviation and Toyota Ventures. “This move by American is a strong signal that customers want a true zero-emissions solution for passenger aviation and are willing to back tangible, pragmatic steps to get there quickly,” he said.
Universal Hydrogen expects to begin fuel deliveries for retrofitted regional aircraft in 2025, with plans to progress to larger, single-aisle planes, initially providing auxiliary power from the late 2020s, and graduating to primary fuel by the mid-2030s. “Because these segments represent two-thirds of aviation emissions, and with green hydrogen being a true zero-carbon fuel, these advances put aviation on a path to meet Paris Agreement emissions targets,” the company said.
By the end of 2025, zero-emission flight using clean hydrogen is expected in Denmark, following the collaborative agreement by DAT, Everfuel and Universal Hydrogen, which aims to bring into service hydrogen-powered, 56-seat ATR 72-600 regional aircraft on DAT routes in Denmark, with a goal of converting all of DAT’s domestic routes to zero-emission flights by 2030. Universal Hydrogen will provide fuel services to supply green hydrogen produced by Everfuel using its modular capsules without needing changes to existing airport infrastructure. Based in Herning, Denmark, Everfuel will produce the green hydrogen for the partnership using renewable energy at its first power-to-X plant in Frederica.
The collaboration was announced simultaneously with a request for tender by the Danish government to develop zero-emission commercial flights in the country.
“Collectively, DAT, Everfuel and Universal Hydrogen possess the expertise needed to achieve Denmark’s ambitious target of achieving not just net zero but true zero emissions commercial flight as early as 2025,” said Eremenko. “DAT’s domestic network is a perfect early application for hydrogen fuel, and with the support of Everfuel, we can rapidly develop a complete hydrogen ecosystem in Denmark to usher in a new golden age of aviation built on clean flight.”
Meanwhile, ZeroAvia has entered into a joint development agreement with aerospace group Textron Aviation to support the development of hydrogen-electric powertrains for Cessna Grand Caravan 208B commuter planes. Through this partnership, ZeroAvia will secure a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) to retrofit a single-engine Grand Caravan with a ZA600 zero-emission propulsion system, for use on both passenger and cargo flights.
With more than 2,400 Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft delivered, ZeroAvia said there was huge potential to convert the type to zero-emission powertrains. The company is currently retrofitting its new powertrain into the first of two 19-seat Dornier 228 testbed aircraft, this one at Cotswold Airport in the UK, ahead of test flights in coming weeks. The second test plane is based in the US.
Val Miftakhov, the Founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, said the company aimed drive a revolution in sustainable flight, adding: “Hydrogen-electric powertrains are the only viable, scalable solution for zero-emission aviation.
“The famous Cessna Grand Caravan is on track to be one of the first airframes operating commercial services, both cargo and passenger, with hydrogen-electric, zero-emission engines,” he said. “We applaud the visionary leadership of Textron Aviation in joining us to help transform a much-loved mainstay of sub-regional aviation into a symbol of sustainable transformation in aviation.”
Because of its high-wing design, the Cessna Caravan could carry hydrogen fuel tanks beneath its wings, said ZeroAvia, enabling zero-emission flight without compromising passenger or freight capacity in the main cabin of the aircraft. ZeroAvia will develop its ZA600 powertrain for Grand Caravan aircraft using data, engineering and certification support from Textron.
In addition to these deals, ZeroAvia has acquired HyPoint, a leading fuel cell stack producer, whose high-temperature fuel cell technology can potentially increase the power output and energy density of aviation fuel cell powertrains.
“We see this as a significant step forward for ZeroAvia, and a hugely important strategic step to strengthen our leadership position in hydrogen-electric powertrain development for aviation,” said Miftakhov. “There are no other organisations with the breadth of expertise and world-leading IP in hydrogen-electric aviation that we now have within the company. “
Alex Ivanenko, the former CEO of HyPoint, said the acquisition was “the natural next chapter in our journey, allowing us to tap into the benefits of the larger and strategic resources that ZeroAvia has to offer.”
Photo: Universal Hydrogen