ZeroAvia, a leading innovator in the field of hydrogen-electric aviation, has recently unveiled its plans for zero-emission propulsion in regional jet aircraft.
Through an extensive technical study conducted in collaboration with Type Certificate holder MHIRJ, the company has identified a viable retrofit solution for the CRJ series aircraft, including the CRJ 700, 550, and 900 models.
The hydrogen-electric CRJ aircraft would be powered by ZeroAvia’s ZA 2000RJ powertrain, specifically designed for regional jet engines. These engines, derivatives of the ZA2000 engine class, are projected to deliver comparable performance to conventional engines while achieving zero-emission operation. ZeroAvia estimates that the hydrogen-electric CRJ could accommodate up to 60 passengers and achieve a range of 560 nautical miles, covering more than 80 percent of current flights.
One of the key findings of the technical study is the favorable prospects for onboard hydrogen fuel storage and seamless integration of the powertrain, ensuring minimal impact on the aircraft’s aerodynamics. The adoption of hydrogen fuel and the resulting reduction in maintenance costs would lead to significant operating cost savings. This, in turn, could open up new route possibilities and increase the frequency of flights on existing routes to accommodate higher passenger volumes.
The study also explored innovative propulsor technologies, such as geared, ducted electric fans or open rotor designs, to further enhance the aircraft’s efficiency. Additionally, the analysis addressed the challenge of overcoming the loss of turbine core thrust, proposing solutions within the constraints of the original airframe, including increased fan diameter.
To achieve the envisioned hydrogen-electric CRJ, certain assumptions were made during the initial study phase. These assumptions included a specific power of 2.4 kW/kg for the HTPEM (High-Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell system. Notably, ZeroAvia has already demonstrated 2.5 kW/kg at the cell level and aims to achieve a system level specific power of 3 kW/kg within the next two years. This advancement would greatly enhance the operational capabilities of the hydrogen-electric CRJ.
The CRJ series, with over 1,400 aircraft in service worldwide, represents a substantial market for potential retrofit conversions using ZeroAvia’s ZA2000 engine. By leveraging the progress made in its prototype ZA2000 hydrogen-electric system for regional turboprop aircraft, ZeroAvia aims to certify the technology for commercial use as early as 2027. This crucial milestone will pave the way for the adoption of hydrogen-electric power in regional jets as well.
ZeroAvia has made significant strides in the development of its electric motor technology and fuel cell power generation. The company is currently testing its ZA2000 motor cores and HTPEM fuel cell stacks, with the upcoming deployment of the prototype system on a 76-seat Dash 8-400 aircraft. These advancements bring ZeroAvia closer to realizing its vision of a sustainable, hydrogen-electric aviation future.