British Airways is to partner with ZeroAvia on an initiative to explore how hydrogen-powered aircraft can play a role in the future of sustainable flight. Following its world-first hydrogen fuel cell powered flight of a commercial-size aircraft in September, ZeroAvia is planning the commercialisation of hydrogen-electric power for aircraft as early as 2023 with flights of up to 500 miles (800 km) in a 19-seater aircraft under its HyFlyer II project. Based in London and California, ZeroAvia has just secured a £12.3 million ($16.3m) grant towards the project from the UK government through the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI). The company has also raised a further £16 million ($21.4m) in Series A venture funding. The BA partnership will be part of parent company IAG’s Hangar 51 accelerator programme.
ZeroAvia’s September flight of a six-seat Piper Malibu M350 utilised a smaller version of the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain it developed for the first HyFlyer project, which was also supported with a grant from the government-industry ATI programme. HyFlyer II is aimed at bringing to market the first hydrogen-electric powertrain suitable for commercial aircraft by 2023. Typically, up to 19-seat aircraft, such as the Cessna 208 Caravan and the Viking Air DHC-6 Twin Otter, are used in regional aviation and cargo transport worldwide. ZeroAvia says it 600kW hydrogen-electric powertrain is platform-agnostic and will have lower operating costs and less air pollution than its jet-fuelled competition.
It is planning to perform initial test flights in 2021 and culminate in a 350-mile demonstration flight. By 2027, it expects to have powerplants in service capable of powering commercial flights of over 500 miles in aircraft with up to 100 seats and by 2030 more than 1,000 miles in aircraft with over 100 seats.
For the HyFlyer II project, ZeroAvia is working again with the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) to deliver the green hydrogen fuelling systems required to power the aircraft for flight tests, including through mobile fuelling platforms suited to airport environments. For the first time, it is partnering with Aeristech to utilise the company’s advanced air compressor system as part of the 19-seat powertrain.
The $21.4 million Series A funding was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and the Ecosystem Integrity Fund, with follow-on investors Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, Horizons Ventures, Shell Ventures and Summa Equity. Total funding since inception stands at $49.7 million.
“We see tremendous potential for hydrogen to decarbonise transportation, a core focus of our investment strategy,” said Devin Whatley, Managing Partner at the Ecosystem Integrity Fund. “With aviation being such a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, and also one of the trickiest areas to decarbonise, we believe ZeroAvia offers the only near-term solution to sustainable aviation and has already made significant progress toward achieving this goal.”
Added Kara Hurst, Amazon’s VP Worldwide Sustainability: “Amazon created The Climate Pledge Fund to support the development of technologies and services that will enable Amazon and other companies to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement ten years early – achieving net zero carbon by 2040. ZeroAvia’s zero-emission aviation powertrain has real potential to help decarbonise the aviation sector, and we hope this investment will further accelerate the pace of innovation to enable zero-emission air transport at scale.”
The £12.3 million grant, which is being matched by funding from the project’s partners, is being made through the Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Innovate UK and ATI.
“Next year, as the UK assumes the Chair of the G7 nations and hosts COP26, we have an exciting opportunity to lead through example on climate change as we power towards net zero with our new ambitious plan to put the UK at the forefront of the green industrial revolution and a green jobs boom,” said Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng.
“ZeroAvia’s HyFlyer II project will bring yet another first for zero-emission flight to British skies, boosting our work through the Jet Zero Council, as well as positioning the country as a leader in green aviation technology and ensuring the UK builds back greener after the pandemic.”
Launched in June, the Jet Zero Council is an initiative between industry and government to focus on delivering net zero emissions commercial flight, whose members include ZeroAvia and British Airways.
IAG’s Hangar 51 accelerator programme works with start-ups and scale-ups from around the world to provide an opportunity to develop and test their products on “real world business challenges,” explains British Airways. On completion of the project, the airline says research and learnings from the process will be shared and the ZeroAvia and Hangar 51 teams will consider how the partnership will progress longer term.
“We are very excited to partner with ZeroAvia and get a glimpse of a zero-emissions future using hydrogen-powered aircraft,” said Louise Evans, British Airways’ Director of External Communications & Sustainability. “During the partnership, as well as assessing the environmental advantages of the technology, we will also be exploring the operational, commercial and customer experience improvements that can be achieved.”
Responded Sergey Kiselev, Head of Europe for ZeroAvia: “Our mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to truly zero emissions flight and we believe hydrogen is the best way to quickly and practically achieve this. Earlier this year, we proved that passengers will soon be able to board an emissions-free, hydrogen-powered aircraft for commercial services. In the years to come, we will scale that technology up to power larger aircraft over longer distances.
“We have found that in addition to improving the sustainability of flight, which is vital, hydrogen-electric technology has the potential to lower operating costs and improve the in-flight passenger experience. We are delighted to be working with British Airways, one of the world’s iconic airlines, and the Hangar 51 programme to explore how hydrogen-electric aircraft can power the fleet of the future. That promising future is closer than ever.”
British Airways CEO Sean Doyle said the airline was committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “In the short term this means improving our operational efficiency and introducing carbon offset and removal projects, while in the medium to longer term we’re investing in the development of sustainable aviation fuel and looking at how we can help accelerate the growth of new technologies, such as zero emissions hydrogen-powered aircraft.”
Four years earlier than planned, BA has now retired the last of its Boeing 747 fleet, to be replaced by more fuel-efficient Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s. It is expecting sustainable aviation fuel supplies from the planned Velocys Altalto waste-to-jet fuel plant, in which it is co-partner with Shell, located in north-east England to start arriving in 2025. Slated to produce around 20 million gallons a year, the airline estimates this would be enough to power more than 1,000 flights from London to New York each year in an A350.
In 2019, parent company IAG became the first airline group worldwide to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (see article).
IAG CEO Luis Gallego told the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, convened on December 12 by the United Nations, the UK and France ahead of next year’s COP26: “Despite the current crisis, we believe it is absolutely critical that our industry plays its full part in addressing climate change. Our actions show how seriously we are taking the commitment. We will not back down from our ambition and efforts to reduce aviation carbon emissions.”