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2023’s 11th Breakthrough Technology Takes Flight

2023’s 11th Breakthrough Technology Takes Flight

2023's 11th Breakthrough Technology Takes Flight

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And Universal Hydrogen joins the race this week. The company has scheduled a test flight for its Dash 8-300, a regional aircraft with more than 40 seats.

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The main objective is to test the propulsion system, which will use hydrogen fuel cells that convert hydrogen and oxygen into water vapour, generating electricity to propel the aircraft.

The plane will fly with hydrogen fuel cells powering one side while a traditional jet engine runs on the other. It’s standard practice for testing new systems in flight, says Paul Eremenko, CEO and co-founder of Universal Hydrogen.

Even if the test flight is successful, there is still a long way to go before cargo or passengers board a hydrogen aircraft. That’s because there’s a lot of infrastructure around planes, and a broad shift to hydrogen flying may require a lot of rethinking.

Take refueling, for example. Commercial airports today have an established network for refueling aircraft. Jet fuel is transported, usually on trucks or in pipelines to a central fueling system. Trucks can then pick it up and bring it to an aircraft while it is at a gate.

This whole system might not work as well for hydrogen, Eremenko says. Pipelines carrying hydrogen are prone to leaks, and keeping hydrogen in liquid form requires cooling it to cryogenic temperatures, which often means a lot of losses when moving a container to another.

The solution, as Eremenko sees it, looks a lot like one of my most prized possessions: a Nespresso coffee maker. Universal Hydrogen plans to build and use hydrogen-filled pods that can be loaded and unloaded from its aircraft, eliminating the need to transfer hydrogen between different containers.

This week’s test flight will not use these modules, as the goal is to ensure that the aircraft’s propulsion system works as intended. The Dash 8-300 that will fly will be powered by hydrogen tanks filled before the flight, but future test flights will use the capsule system to test its operation in the air, Eremenko said.

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