Universal Hydrogen announced a significant regulatory achievement, marking a pivotal step in the pursuit of emissions-free aviation and in demonstrating the safety of hydrogen as an aviation fuel.
The California-based company confirmed the receipt of a critical document, known as G-1, from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This milestone is crucial in outlining the certification process for Universal Hydrogen’s plans to operate turboprop aircraft powered by hydrogen-based fuel cells. While it may seem procedural, experts emphasize its significance as it could establish a regulatory framework for an emerging sector seeking to leverage hydrogen for carbon emission reduction. Previously, hydrogen was perceived as challenging to store and utilize in aviation.
Mark Cousin, Chief Technology Officer at Universal Hydrogen, expressed the potential impact of this certification process, stating that it could set a positive precedent for the broader hydrogen aviation industry. The company, co-founded by former Airbus and United Technologies technology chief Paul Eremenko, is actively developing conversion kits that will enable turboprop aircraft to be powered by hydrogen-electric powertrains, replacing conventional engines. These electric engines will draw power from fuel cells supplied by a system of modular hydrogen capsules onboard the aircraft.
This development follows H2FLY’s announcement in Germany last week of a successful test flight of a small demonstrator aircraft powered by a fuel cell relying on liquid hydrogen. H2FLY aims to expand this technology to serve the regional air travel market. Notably, H2FLY was acquired by Joby Aviation in 2021, a prominent player in the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft sector.
In the UK, ZeroAvia reported in July that it had conducted initial flight tests for its ZA600, a modified Dornier 228 turboprop equipped with a hydrogen-electric system. After a successful debut test flight in January, ZeroAvia aims to begin commercial service by 2025.
Universal Hydrogen’s strategic focus involves providing hydrogen in transportable capsules. Its initial objective is to invigorate the market by developing a hydrogen-electric powertrain for converted 40-seat ATR or De Havilland turboprop aircraft by 2026, having already completed its inaugural test flight in March.
Meanwhile, European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is actively working on what it claims will be the world’s first hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft, with plans for it to enter service by 2035. This Airbus aircraft is expected to be larger, accommodating around 100 passengers.
Last week, Airbus joined a UK consortium comprising companies engaged in the hydrogen aviation sector, collectively urging the government to enhance research and development funding while supporting hydrogen supply and infrastructure development.