Hydrogen planes take off with startup’s test flight
Aviation accounts for around 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the industry is growing rapidly. While airlines and some industry groups have pledged to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, the demands of flying can be difficult to meet without fossil fuels.
Hydrogen fuel cells represent a possible avenue that some companies hope can help reduce aviation emissions. But in order to drastically reduce industry emissions, the technology would need to evolve to power relatively large aircraft.
“This puts us directly on the path to commercial launches,” said Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, during a press conference announcing the test flight.
ZeroAvia has raised more than $140 million in funding from investors including United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates’ energy venture capital fund. The company has also received more than 1,500 customer pre-orders for its hydrogen fuel cell systems, according to Miftakhov.
The startup has been performing test flights for several years with smaller planes, with varying success. In 2021, one of ZeroAvia’s test flights was forced to land and the aircraft was damaged after the backup battery system shut down. With only the hydrogen fuel cells running, the plane lost power to its electric motors.
The 19-seater plane’s recent January 2023 test flight, which was delayed from summer 2022, was supported by the battery system for the entire flight. The batteries provided about 50% of the power to the left side of the aircraft, with the hydrogen fuel cell system providing the remaining 50%.