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ZeroAvia partners on hydrogen aircraft refueling in California

Hydrogen-electric propulsion touted as ‘only practical, holistic and economically viable’ climate solution for aviation industry

(Photo: ZeroAvia and ZEV Station)

ZeroAvia, a company trying to achieve zero-emission aviation by using hydrogen-electric power, signed a memorandum of understanding with hydrogen fueling firm ZEV Station on Monday to develop refueling infrastructure for green hydrogen at airports in California.

California is at the forefront of sustainable development with its low carbon fuel standard and major efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The aviation industry faces major barriers to decarbonization, including range and capacity challenges with battery power. Hydrogen is being considered as a zero-emission fuel option for the sector, but it will only release zero emissions if the hydrogen is produced using renewable energy.

“California leads the world in the adoption of zero-emission vehicles thanks to forward-thinking policies and deployment of infrastructure, and zero-emission flight infrastructure at airports is the next natural frontier. ZeroAvia’s partnership with ZEV Station is going to be a significant part of that journey,” Arnab Chatterjee, vice president of infrastructure at ZeroAvia, said in the release.

ZeroAvia, ZEV Station partnership details

The two companies will work together to develop a regional airport project that will demonstrate how hydrogen-electric propulsion systems can deliver zero-emission commercial flights, according to a release.

ZeroAvia will bring its R&D in hydrogen production and refueling for aviation, and ZEV Station will bring its experience in providing gaseous hydrogen for road fuels to the table.

The partnership includes plans to demonstrate hydrogen-electric aircraft flights from pilot airports supported by the co-developed green hydrogen refueling system.

“There is great potential to take these learnings towards the creation of Zero Emission Airports with a large central hydrogen production at scale, an H2-Hub. This H2-Hub, with zero carbon energy, would generate a significant amount of green hydrogen on-site for both aircraft and vehicles,” Jesse Schneider, CEO and CTO at ZEV Station, said in a statement.

“This could offset the need for carbon-based fuel at airports entirely, but there is a lot to be done to make this a common reality. ZEV Station sees the partnership with ZeroAvia as a key catalyst to help kick-start hydrogen fueling for aviation in California and beyond,” Schneider continued.

Because airports are “central points of significant demand” due to high volumes of fuel for aircraft, creating green hydrogen hubs at airports could help improve economies of scale for green hydrogen production.

Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolyzers powered by renewable energy. This results in only oxygen as a byproduct, instead of greenhouse gas emissions, which are released during the conventional hydrogen production process.

Read: Could blue hydrogen accelerate transition to green?

“Hydrogen-electric propulsion is the only practical, holistic and economically viable solution to the industry’s full climate impacts,” Chatterjee said.

ZeroAvia’s zero-emission powertrains use hydrogen fuel in an electrochemical reaction within a fuel cell system to produce electricity, according to the release. The fuel cell system then powers electric motors that spin the propellers and produce no emissions other than water.

According to ZeroAvia, hydrogen-electric powertrains on aircraft could:

  • Lower life-cycle emissions by 90% compared to turbines.
  • Lower powertrain operating costs by 60%.
  • Reduce hourly maintenance costs by 75%.
  • Reach a range of 50% of a standard turboprop engine by 2024 with the same payload.
  • Achieve the same range of a standard turboprop engine by 2026.

“It’s fantastic to see additional partnerships and project plans for zero-carbon fuels such as green hydrogen. In light of this week’s latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there should be a real sense of urgency to accelerate investment to rapidly scale production beyond pilot stage into full commercialization. There is no net-zero freight future without fossil-free fuels,” said Tyler Cole, director of carbon intelligence at FreightWaves.

Timeline for hydrogen-powered aircraft development and adoption

There is debate about how soon hydrogen-powered aircraft will be ready to take to the skies hauling freight. United Airlines said it might have them ready by 2028, whereas Airbus is setting sights on 2035 for its first hydrogen-powered aircraft.

Read: Hydrogen hype? United Airlines says it could fly new-tech jets by 2028

“ZeroAvia’s hydrogen-electric powertrain will allow us to operate cost-effective regional freight services using existing aircraft that are now powered by traditional turbines. ZeroAvia’s early flight test successes are promising, and we are also excited by the extensive R&D they have put into the green hydrogen production and the refueling ecosystem needed to support air operations,” said ASL Aviation CEO David Andrews in an announcement early last month.

In addition, ZeroAvia was recently awarded a transport research and innovation grant from the U.K. Department for Transport to explore concepts for liquid hydrogen refueling in an airport setting.

ZeroAvia, ZEV Station next steps

Within weeks, ZeroAvia plans to begin flight-testing its hydrogen-electric powertrain using its Dornier-228 testbed aircraft. This project will aid in developing a fully certified 600kW model for aircraft of up to 19 seats by 2024.

ZeroAvia also has partnerships with Shell, Octopus Hydrogen, Royal Schiphol Group and the Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport Foundation to build refueling ecosystems for hydrogen at airports around the world.

ZEV Station is engineering zero-carbon fueling highway stations for fuel cell and electric vehicles. Their charging test site is slated to open at the end of May. The first station with charging and hydrogen is targeted to be up and running in early 2023.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.